Brazilian meat company that has supplied McDonald’s and Burger King bought cattle from the farm using deforested land earlier this year, investigation shows.

The world’s biggest supplier of burgers sourced meat from a farmer in the Amazon UN agency had been found guilty of using deforested land, say reports, even as new figures reveal the beef industry’s deforestation risks.

The company aforesaid it was misled by a government certificate that cleared the farm of deforestation, and it has since finished the association. Marfrig has recently launched an environment “transition bond” to tap into the growing sustainable investment market.

In January, inspectors from Ibama, Brazil’s environmental watchdog, found cattle from Limeira Ranch grazing on illegally deforested land inside a protected region, the Triunfo do Xingu environmental protection space in Pará state. The region has been devastated by forest fires this year.

The part of the farm where the cattle were found had been placed under an official embargo – which prohibits grazing – 3 years before, because of illegal felling. Embargos are imposed for environmental violations and serve both as a punishment and protective measure to permit land to recover.

Photo by Zhifei Zhou / Unsplash

For breaking the embargo, the ranch was fined 1.19m reais (£236,000) this year. Despite this, documents obtained by reporter Brazil show that 144 cattle from Limeira Ranch were subsequently equipped to a Marfrig abattoir in Tucumã, in Pará. The company additionally bought cattle from the ranch on multiple occasions in late 2018. There is no evidence that the cattle Marfrig purchased were themselves raised on illegally deforested land.

Marfrig told the Guardian: “On the date of purchase, February 16, 2019, Marfrig’s geo-monitoring platform collected all available information about the provider … on that date … there was no record of non-compliance. It was not on the Ibama embargoed producers list, there was no satellite detection of deforestation in the area and the farmer was not on the official list of companies using slave-like labor.

“Ibama issued a negative certificate assuring that on that date … nothing was against the supplier. And that’s the sole way corporations – not simply Marfrig – will search for official information in real-time. From the instant, the official inclusion info was created accessible by Ibama, the provider (and so in all cases) was automatically and immediately blocked. This implies that, since then, farmer Adriano José De Mattos and Fazenda Limeira cannot provide Marfrig.” Marfrig provided the Ibama certificate clearing the ranch as part of their reply.

The Bureau has established, using trade information and shipping records, the extent of the links between Brazilian meat companies and the UK. Nearly £1bn worth of beef provided by 3 of the meat giants – Marfrig, JBS and Minerva and their subsidiaries – was directly foreign to the united kingdom in the past 5 years.

Meanwhile, new figures released by Trase, a supply-chain initiative run by the Stockholm Environment Institute and NGO global canopy, delineate the deforestation risks in the export supply chains of 3 of Brazil’s major beef companies, including Marfrig. The Trase research mapped supply chains for beef from international markets back through customs and slaughterhouses to the municipalities where cattle were raised, using customs, agricultural, and sanitary inspection data.

Photo by Pablo Azurduy / Unsplash

Having traced the cattle back to their original municipalities, Trase cross-referenced government figures on cattle numbers with deforestation information and official data on new pastures to calculate a deforestation “risk” – presented as an area in sq kilometer – related to companies and specific international markets.

The analysis includes data on “indirect” suppliers, which are usually intermediate farms that don’t sell directly to abattoirs yet provide other farms that may truck cattle to slaughter.

According to Trase’s calculations, Marfrig’s beef exports come from farms connected to up to 100 sq kilometers of deforestation risk a year in Brazil. Trade additionally calculated figures for JBS, the world’s biggest meat company, and Minerva Foods, another large international provider of Brazilian beef. JBS beef exports are connected to farms involved in up to 300 sq kilometers of deforestation risk each year, and Minerva Foods connected to farms involved in 100 sq kilometer of risk, through the research.

Marfrig said: “It would be a mistake to conclude from Trase data that there is a link between the cattle purchased by Marfrig and deforestation within the region. Exactly because it understands that there is a risk and that Trase information provides relevant services for the preservation of biomes, Marfrig developed and implemented its geo-monitoring platform. This system is audited by an independent third-party – Norwegian DNV GL. Using this platform and analyzing Trase information, Marfrig substantially mitigates the risk of getting animals from deforestation – using, since 2009, the zero-deforestation criterion for the Amazon biome.”

The road to Machu Picchu
Photo by KAL VISUALS / Unsplash/ Amazon forest
Minerva said: “Sustainability forms one of the fundamental pillars of Minerva Foods, at its core to feed the globe, conserve the world and enhance human worth … 100% of Minerva’s purchases return from zero-deforestation areas within the Amazon biotic community. Overlapping our suppliers’ ranch map with deforestation polygons, indigenous lands, and environmental protection areas, our sustainability department blocks any supplier that's not compliant with any of the criteria, which effectively means that Minerva can’t obtain any animals coming from these suppliers.”

Burger King told us that their goal was to eliminate deforestation within their international supply chain, and they were working toward that. They are aforesaid that all their suppliers were needed to comply with their sustainability and forest protection policies.

This July Marfrig launched a $500m “transition” bond. Like “green bonds”, which permit environmentally friendly firms to raise money, bankers have designed transition bonds for companies with the potential to clean up their practices to fund that change. In the bond framework, the company states: “Our vision is to be recognized because of the best international protein company. This can happen with a commitment to sustainability.”