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JBS hits back after European supermarkets drop beef linked to deforestation

December 19, 2021
Consumer Packaged Goods

Following a furor this week in which six supermarket chains stopped selling Brazilian beef because of alleged deforestation links, Brazilian meat processing company JBS is heavily defending its position, saying that it does not tolerate acts of deforestation.

Several European supermarket chains and their subsidiaries, including Ahold Delhaize in the Netherlands, Carrefour Belgium, Lidl, Sainsbury’s UK and Auchan France, dropped beef products from Brazil, claiming investigations had linked it to destructive practices in the Amazon rainforest, mainly deforestation.

JBS and Jack Links were the primary outfits cited.

With annual revenues of US$50 billion, JBS came out strongly against the move. “JBS has no tolerance for deforestation, forced labor, misuse of indigenous lands, conservation units or violations of environmental embargoes,” a company spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“In Brazil, the company has maintained, for over ten years, a geospatial monitoring system that uses satellite imagery to monitor its suppliers in every biome,” they explain.

Beefing up on best practices

The move comes following a new investigation by Repórter Brasil in partnership with Mighty Earth that tracked deforestation-connected beef to European retail store shelves, in the form of beef jerky, corned beef and fresh prime cuts.

Concerns began to surface in the US in 2020 about raw-intact beef products, labeling and Brazilian cattle sector representatives.

Mighty Earth shared the findings directly with the companies. It links JBS to 100,000 hectares of clearance in the past two years. About 75% of this clearance occurred in protected areas.

“This is a watershed moment because several huge supermarkets across Europe are saying an emphatic ‘no’ to Brazilian beef over deforestation concerns,” says Mighty Earth Europe director Nico Muzi.

“These are a series of concrete commercial actions taken by some of the biggest supermarkets in Europe to stop buying and selling beef from a company and a country that have made too many promises and have delivered too few results.”

Laundering cattle
The allegations against JBS claim the company also indirectly sourced cows from illegally deforested areas.

The practice, known as “cattle laundering,” involves cattle being reared on illegally deforested land and later sold to a registered farm to conceal its origin.

JBS claims it is fully compliant with the Responsible Raw Material Procurement Policy and the Cattle Supplier Monitoring Policy of the Federal Prosecution Office (Beef on Track).

“The challenge for JBS, and the beef cattle supply chain in general, is to guarantee this same control over the suppliers of its suppliers,” the JBS spokesperson continues.

“This is because protein companies, such as JBS, have relationships only with their direct suppliers, while transaction information from the other links in the chain is protected by confidentiality.

Standing up for ecosystems
“Brazilian beef can be linked to deforestation. In spite of efforts by the industry, they cannot guarantee us 100% deforestation (and conversion) free,” Elvira Bos, director media and external relations, Ahold Delhaize tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

The retailer, which only stocks about 1% Brazilian beef in its supermarkets, will reconsider the withdrawal “if guarantees can be given” but at present the ban relates to all beef from Brazil. “We have a zero deforestation and conversion policy,” Bos explains.

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst, “The link between cattle farming and the destruction of ecosystems like the Amazon, the Cerrado, and the Pentanal is a complex issue, which we take extremely seriously.”

The supermarket has taken steps, together with its suppliers, to address the issue but believes little progress has been made.

“We are therefore committed to moving our own brand corned beef sourcing away from Brazil to ensure our corned beef product can be independently verified deforestation- and conversion-free in origin,” the spokesperson explains.

JBS, on the other hand, claims to have made extensive investments in a blockchain-enabled platform to overcome its sourcing problem and “achieve a completely illegal-deforestation-free supply chain by 2025”.

Full throttle “Brazilian beef drop”

Dutch food retailer Ahold Delhaize and its subsidiary committed to stop sourcing beef from Brazil for all stores. Delhaize, part of Ahold Delhaize, committed to also removing all Jack Links products from its shelves.

Lidl Netherlands committed to stop selling all-beef of South American origin as of January 2022. Carrefour Belgium will not sell Jack Links’ beef jerky and will increase surveillance in all operating countries.

Auchan France will remove beef jerky products tied to JBS from its store shelves. Sainsbury’s UK will move its brand corned beef away from Brazil entirely.

Princes Group has not placed a contract for corned beef from JBS since November 2020 and committed to a new sourcing policy for Brazilian material that includes zero deforestation.

JBS states that it blocked more than 14,000 supplier farms for failure to comply with its policies and standards and will continue to take additional action.

Deforestation at critical levels
The Brazilian Amazon has seen the worst deforestation in 15 years, reports Mighty Earth. Scientists estimate two-thirds of cleared land in the Amazon and Cerrado have been converted to cattle pasture.

“The research shows JBS continues to sell beef linked to deforestation, even though there are around 650,000 million hectares of land in Latin America where deforestation-free agricultural production is possible,” Muzi outlines.

“If I were another beef company from that part of the world, I would urge JBS to stop making their entire region a deforestation-linked global pariah. Certainly, many companies in South America do better,” he says.

By Inga de Jong


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