Meat company faces heat over ‘cattle laundering’ in Amazon supply chain

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The world’s biggest meat company has frequently been accused of links to deforestation. Now JBS is facing growing pressure from Brazilian politicians and environmentalists to address the information gaps and transparency failings in its supply chain.

Critics say these deficiencies mean JBS is unable to ensure it does not buy cattle from farms involved in illegal deforestation over a decade after promising to do so.

Senator Fabiano Contarato, who presides over the environment commission, has called for Brazil’s environment and agriculture ministers to attend a Congress hearing. “These facts are serious and they should be investigated rigorously,” he said. “This is a form of cattle laundering.”

Amid mounting outrage over damage to the Amazon from deforestation and fires linked to cattle farming, the meat company’s lack of transparency is increasingly out of step with global finance. The world’s largest asset manager BlackRock has now made sustainability integral to investing. The climate crisis dominated the 2020 World Economic Forum at Davos.

But JBS remains unable to monitor a significant proportion of its suppliers despite operating deep in the Amazon. It is a problem for the entire meat industry in Brazil, but other companies, such as Marfrig, have come clean about the scale of the issue, and are taking action to resolve it. Meanwhile, JBS has refused to answer direct questions about exactly how much of its beef comes from so-called “indirect suppliers”.

Further criticism has been levelled at the audits done on the JBS supply chain, which state openly that there is “no verification system” in place for indirect suppliers.

“This is totally against ethical principles in relation to its consumers,” said Marina Silva, a former environment minister who won international awards for reducing deforestation and called for a certification programme. “These audits end up as more of a smokescreen.”

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