JBS, the world’s second largest food company, aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2040 and zero deforestation across its global supply chain by 2035.
The company currently monitors 100% of its direct cattle suppliers for illegal Amazon deforestation and has started to rollout blockchain technology in an effort to trace indirect suppliers. It has said it will eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon and all other Brazilian biomes in which it operates by 2025. Five years from then, JBS believes it will be able to eradicate deforestation from its supply chain globally.
Nevertheless, the environmental record of Brazilian meat giant JBS has long come under scrutiny in civil society circles.
The World Benchmarking Alliance ranks JBS 146th in its Food and Agriculture Benchmark ranking. On environmental protection, the Brazilian beef major achieves a score of just 8.9 out of 30. “While the company assigns accountability of its sustainability strategy with its highest governance body, it lags behind in terms of setting targets for its key topics and reporting progress against these,” WBA said. “In the environment measurement area JBS shows recognition of key topics such as protecting terrestrial natural ecosystems, animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions but often fails to report on its holistic group-wide activities, instead focusing on subsidiaries.”
Environmental organisations like Greenpeace have been more scathing in their critique of the company’s environmental performance. A recent report, for instance, accused 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. In 2020 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. Investor network FAIRR echoes concerns over JBS’s current failure to monitor third party suppliers, alongside others in the protein space. “Meat giants with a zero-deforestation pledge, such as McDonalds suppliers JBS and Marfrig, do not monitor the third party suppliers which are responsible for up to 90% of deforestation from sourcing cattle,” according to FAIRR calculations.
As Brazil’s biggest cattle producer, JBS’s indirect supply chain is beset by the problem of illegal deforestation. Cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of Amazon deforestation, according to figures from the World Wildlife Fund. “Alone, the deforestation caused by cattle ranching is responsible for the release of 340 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year, equivalent to 3.4% of current global emissions,” WWF warned.
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that these links to deforestation can have significant financial consequences. At the end of last year, for instance, supermarket chains in the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands removed JBS beef from shelves after an investigation by Repórter Brasil in partnership with campaigner Mighty Earth tracked deforestation-linked beef to European retail stores.
The research claimed to find multiple examples of ‘cattle laundering’, where beef was processed by JBS at its slaughterhouses in low-deforestation areas such as São Paulo, but sourced from cattle raised and fed on farms officially sanctioned for illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, or tied to destruction of the Cerrado woody savannah and the Pantanal tropical wetlands.
The findings saw the likes of Ahold Delhaize, Sainsbury's, Lidl and Carrefour take steps to limit their exposure to Brazilian beef.
But with great challenge comes great opportunity, believes former WWF Senior Director for Beef and Leather Supply Chains, Maurício Bauer.
Prior to WWF, Bauer worked at NGOs like the US-based National Wildlife Federation (NWF), where he had direct responsibility for developing and implementing the organization’s beef protein, leather, palm oil and soybean strategies. With over 20 years’ non-profit expertise, Bauer specializes in strategies and solutions for the sustainable production of farm commodities, overseeing improvements to processes, innovation and technology. However, his experience is not limited to the NGO world. The sustainability expert is no stranger to private sector agricultural commodities experience across the US, Australia and Brazil. Indeed, he was a member of the JBS Australia team and has worked for over ten years at other companies in the food industry.
“Sustainability has been the focus of my career – whether working for NGOs or with the private sector and corporations in Brazil, Australia and the US,” Bauer told FoodNavigator.
Now, the sustainability expert is returning to JBS as Corporate Sustainability Officer at JBS Brazil. He will lead the company’s sustainability strategy in Brazil in line with its global targets, JBS said.
Why the return to the private sector? “It comes down to identifying the actors in the marketplace that are best positioned to promote profound transformations for optimal environmental conservation outcomes,” Bauer explained. “JBS is one of these companies. No other company has the leverage and capacity to drive a sector-wide transformation as JBS – in my native Brazil and globally, across the food industry worldwide.”
Bauer was positive on JBS’s public climate commitments. “The company has made a clear public commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040 - NetZero 2040 - and I am excited to be part of that journey,” he stressed.
The group is implementing a range of initiatives that it hopes will move the needle on deforestation trends in Brazil. These include efforts like its recently announced plan to protect 2.5 million hectares of Brazilian Pantanal via a forest fire taskforce focusing on early fire detection, big data analysis and rapid response. JBS is investing R$26 milhões (US$5.33 million) in the initiative and claims the project is estimated to generate a CO2 reduction of 15 million tons.
For Bauer, the sustainability expert believes moving between the private sector and civil society is an example of the fluidity and collaboration needed to deliver meaningful impact as the sector works to feed a growing global population while also limiting global warming to 1.5 º.
“NGOs and industry are often pitted against each other, but this cannot be a zero-sum game when our ability to feed people and the future of the planet itself is concerned. We are running out of time, and we all lose in case we don’t succeed. Having worked across both sides of this question, I will use this knowledge to collaborate with partners - across civil society, academia and industry - to continue to advance the sustainability agenda and enhance collaboration to achieve our common goals.”