JBS doubles down on deforestation as Greenpeace denounces ‘five more years of inaction'

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Jbs Meat deforestation

A dispute between the meat giant and the NGO over deforestation committed by rogue farmers in the Amazon illustrates the challenge faced by big businesses in identifying malpractice in deep and complex supply chains.

JBS says it is confident it can achieve plans to monitor its entire supply chain by 2025, including questionable indirect suppliers that have been linked to illegal deforestation in Brazil.

The statement comes ahead of a Greenpeace International report later this month which accuses the world’s biggest meat producer of indirectly sourcing cattle from unscrupulous Brazilian farmers who have illegally started fires in order to clear large areas of land. Last year, fires - most of them reportedly deliberately and illegally lit by ranchers in defiance of regional and federal bans - destroyed around 30% of Brazil’s Pantanal rainforest, the NGO says.   

In a recent exchange of messages between the NGO and JBS, shared with FoodNavigator, Greenpeace revealed its forthcoming report will release new data and analysis that it claims show that in 2018 and 2019 JBS sourced cattle in the region from properties linked to this potentially illegal destruction or to other reported violations or irregularities.

Greenpeace requested clarification in 18 cases of alleged links between JBS and irregular cattle suppliers. Many of these suppliers have been subject to embargoes or fines from IBAMA (the Brazilian Environment Ministry’s anti-deforestation agency) or have irregular status with the Rural Environmental Registry, the national electronic public registry mandatory for all rural properties.

Examples of corrupt practice by farmers and breeders may include fattening animals in deforested areas and then transferring them to legal farms, from where they would be sold to the group, thus hiding their origin. The report also noted evidence that several of the ranches have supplied companies in Brazil including McDonald’s and Burger King and exported beef to markets in the EU.

JBS denies any wrongdoing. “We have thoroughly reviewed all cases identified by Greenpeace and found that all supplier purchases were in full compliance with our strict socio-environmental criteria and protocols agreed with the Federal Prosecutors Office,” ​Marcio Nappo, JBS Director of Sustainability, told FoodNavigator.

GettyImages Elijah-Lovkoff
Illegal fires have destroyed around 30% of Brazil's Pantanal rainforest, claims Greenpeace. Image: Getty/Elijah-Lovkoff

The problem, however, is ‘indirect suppliers’, or those farms JBS currently has no control over.

“In most of the cases presented by Greenpeace they've had access to information on our indirect suppliers and the suppliers of the suppliers of the suppliers which we don't have access to,” ​Nappo continued.

In the exchange of messages between the two, JBS said it is unable to provide clarification on infringements it is not aware of. Greenpeace insists on the accuracy of the accusations, without providing further details. 

A spokesperson from Greenpeace subsequently told FoodNavigator it “will be publishing a report detailing its full findings in the near future. Its content and methodology will be available for public review at that time.”

Greenpeace revealed in the exchange that one accusation against JBS was based on a Google search which found reports of complaints against a farm in Corumbá. JBS denies any direct connection with this property. Not only do such accusations ‘defy logic as they refer to complaints sometime after the transaction was alleged to have taken place’, it said, they illustrate the challenge it faces in identifying malpractice in deep and complex supply chains where traceability data is confidential to the two parties on each transit permit and not publicly available.

JBS said this particular accusation was “based on confidential data of livestock farmers obtained by Greenpeace, to which we do not have access, this property had supplied a second farm which, in turn, had sold to a third farm, the latter being a JBS cattle supplier.”

The purchases from this property, it said, complied with the Responsible Procurement Policy, respecting at all times the protocols defined by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. “Even if JBS had the means of identifying the suppliers of its suppliers’ suppliers, the company could not have foreseen that, more than one year later, according to the press, this farmer, as indicated by Greenpeace, would be investigated for fires in the Pantanal.”

JBS told FoodNavigator the NGO “would make a much more significant contribution to protecting the environment if it used the information to which it alleges having had access to prevent purchases from producers that do not meet the socio-environmental criteria.”

Implementing sustainability policies in complex production chains, like that of the beef sector in Brazil, is a “huge challenge that can only be fully overcome through the joint efforts and commitment of all stakeholders”,​ it added.

Improving traceability of the supply chain through satellite and blockchain technology

Meanwhile, JBS insisted it is ‘taking on the challenge of making it possible to monitor all the links of its production chain’. It said it is on track to monitor its entire supply chain in the Amazon region (though not in the Pantanal biome), including those dubious indirect suppliers linked to illegal deforestation, by 2025.

It is doing this in two ways. The first is by using satellite imagery technology which it said has given it, since 2009, a greater grip on the activities of its direct suppliers. It now guarantees that 100% of its direct suppliers do not deforest the Amazon​. For the past ten years JBS claims to have successfully monitored more than 50,000 potential livestock supplying farms each day, covering more than 450,000 km² -- an area larger than Germany.

JBS revealed its Amazon geomonitoring system uses advanced satellite imaging and geo-referencing with official government data on direct supplier ranches to ensure compliance with its Responsible Procurement Policy for the purchase of raw materials.

“The results of the last independent audit of the monitoring system showed that in 2019, 100% of direct purchases met the company’s social-environmental criteria,”​ said Marcio Nappo, JBS’ Sustainability Director. He noted the company has blocked more than 9,000 livestock supplying farms, out of the roughly 50,000 it monitors, for non-compliance to date. “We have already shown we have an efficient system for monitoring our direct suppliers,” ​he stated.

None of this solves the problematic indirect suppliers, of course. To that end, last year the company unveiled its Green Platform which will use blockchain technology -- a digital ledger for collecting information -- to monitor 100% of the supply chain, including indirect suppliers, by 2025 in the Amazon region.

JBS described the Green Platform a ‘sectoral breakthrough’ and ‘the most advanced solution to date’ which offers information it has thus far been unable to access. A key advantage of blockchain is its ability to record transactions in an open, verifiable and permanent way.

JBS explained using the technology in conjunction with cattle movement documents called GTAs allows it to overcome the current challenge, highlighted by the Greenpeace accusations, of accessing suppliers’ sensitive information whilst ensuring full security and confidentiality of that data.

JBS says its satellite imaging technology tracks deforestation in an area larger than Germany.

“The blockchain technology allows our suppliers to input information about their suppliers to the platform without us seeing the information and the conditions they negotiated with their suppliers. We don't want to see those commercial conditions as that would give us unfair leverage with our suppliers,”​ elaborated Nappo.

JBS will use the platform to check that all suppliers – direct and indirect – meet its requirement credentials. The company is already working with its suppliers to educate them and offer legal and agricultural advice to help them to meet the requirements of the platform. Suppliers that fail to cooperate and comply will be blocked from selling to the company.

For the moment, however, JBS’s focus is on getting ‘tens of thousands of indirect suppliers’ onto the system before 2025. Those indirect suppliers who as yet fail to meet its criteria are engaged with not excluded, revealed Nappo.

“Right now, we're not going to block them, we're going to try to help them solve the issue. Sometimes it's paperwork, sometimes they need to put together a conservation plan, sometimes they need to reforest part of their property. We are going to help them and we're hiring people to help these suppliers. 

"We think excluding the property and the supplier is a negative approach. It won't solve the problem because they’ll go to the next meat packer and try and sell it. We don't want that because it won't address the issue.” 

Engagement with the suppliers is a win-win situation, added Nappo, as it will help producers solve their environmental liabilities and improve livestock productivity. “The advice they will get from us will help them not only to be in compliance with our policies but also Brazil’s Forest Code [legislation requiring landowners maintain a proportion of land as forest]. This is an incentive to collaborate with us.”

Meanwhile, JBS is bullish it will deliver a completely deforestation-free supply chain in the Amazon region by 2025 and by the end of that year no longer buy cattle from suppliers who have not collaborated and joined the new monitoring platform.

"We are confident because we think the technology works,”​ noted Nappo. “The technological problem has been overcome. Now it's a matter of education and engagement with the producers. The whole industry is eager to find a solution to this problem. Everyone knows consumers want more and more information about the products they buy and so the whole industry is working very hard to meet these demands from consumers and I don’t think us, or our competitors believe that we should follow the status quo."

Brazil has six terrestrial biomes or ‘biogeographic provinces’. JBS’s geomonitoring and Green Platform initiatives cover the largest -- the Amazon biome – but not the second largest Cerrado biome, or the Pantanal, a biome close to the Bolivia and Paraguay borders, which encompasses the world's largest tropical wetland area and the world's largest flooded grasslands. Image: Brazil Travel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Five more years to turn a blind eye to deforestation’

Greenpeace, however, remains critical of JBS’s efforts.

It noted that JBS had previously promised to monitor its indirect suppliers by 2011. In the decade since the voluntary Cattle Agreement in 2009, a commitment to end the purchase of cattle whose production was linked to Amazon deforestation, slave labour or the illegal occupation of Indigenous lands and protected areas, Greenpeace claims the company has continued to be linked to corruption, deforestation and human rights scandals.

“In 2020, more than a decade since its original deadline and in an apparent bid to appease its investors, JBS announced it would need another five years to map its supply chain in the Amazon,”​ a Greenpeace spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “This is five more years during which it can continue to effectively turn a blind eye to deforestation, illegality and human rights abuses in its indirect supply chain in the Amazon. Other irreplaceable biomes including the Cerrado, from which the bulk of its cattle are sourced, and the Pantanal will continue to be turned to ash and are not covered by this initiative.

“We simply do not have time for JBS’s continued delays and excuses. JBS must immediately end trade relationships with rogue ranchers linked to ecosystem destruction or human rights violations wherever they operate. Cleaning up its supply chain means honouring its original commitment to fully transparent monitoring and reporting, including public provision of data enabling independent scrutiny of its sustainability claims.” 

It added that while rogue ranchers enter the supply chain “it is untenable for international consumer goods companies, supermarkets and fast-food companies that claim to have zero deforestation policies to continue to trade with it and the European Union and the United Kingdom cannot claim that products supplied by JBS would comply with proposed legislation designed to end trade and finance in deforestation.

“Ultimately, the future of the planet relies on a rapid end to industrial meat production and a shift to less meat and more plant-rich diets. This entails a fundamental change in vision for the world’s largest meat processors, the food and finance sectors and governments.”

On these points, JBS said it is in the process of extending its geomonitoring capabilities, currently used in the Amazon region, to the Cerrado biome, and that from 2021, all JBS direct cattle suppliers in Cerrado will be evaluated against the company’s social and environmental criteria. Only JBS’ Responsible Procurement Policy covers the entire Brazilian territory. It would not disclose details of how much cattle is sourced from specific regions. 

It told us: “The JBS Responsible Procurement Policy (that came into effect in 2009) covers each biome where we operate in Brazil, including Amazon, Cerrado and Pantanal. JBS is fully committed to strengthening our existing monitoring of the Amazon region to ensure full traceability across this supply chain by 2025. JBS has also undertaken significant steps to extend this to also cover the Cerrado region, including assessing the farm conditions of all its direct cattle suppliers in this region by the end of 2021.”

JBS added: “The livestock industry is not a threat to the future of the planet despite Greenpeace and certain other NGO claims. Livestock can deliver biodiversity, socio-economic development, sustainable livelihoods and meet food security goals.”

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