Fast Food Is Fueling Brazilian Wildfires

©. Greenpeace

When you buy a burger, it could be from a cow raised on Brazilian soy feed. That's a problem.

The wildfires raging in the Amazon and other regions of Brazil have upset many people, leading some companies to take a stance against purchasing any goods that are linked to deforestation. The shoe industry has been most vocal, with VF Corporation, owner of Timberland and Vans, saying it will not buy Brazilian leather until it's guaranteed not to cause harm.

The food industry, however, has remained conspicuously quiet, despite its clear link to the very exports that are blamed for the wildfires. Beef is part of the problem, but soy is arguably bigger. Known as "the king of beans," Brazilian soy is fed to millions of livestock around the world. Brazil is the second-largest producer of soybeans in the world after the U.S. and its beans are known for being GMO-free and higher in protein than other varieties.

Two and a half million tonnes of soy (or soya, as it's called in the United Kingdom) is imported into the UK annually, most of which is used to feel farm animals, which are then turned into fast food. BBC News estimates that one-third of these imported beans are from Brazil, and a mere 14 percent are certified 'deforestation-free.' In the words of Richard George, Greenpeace's head of forests, "All of the big fast-food companies use soya in animal feed, none of them know where it comes from and soya is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation worldwide."

The problem of tropical deforestation for the purposes of agriculture was somewhat reined in after a moratorium passed in 2006 on new soy cultivation in the Amazon; but it has now surged again, partly because production has expanded into the central Cerrado region, a "vast tropical savanna where the natural habitat is less well protected" (and where the Amazon moratorium conveniently does not apply), and because president Bolsonaro has lifted environmental restrictions. A press release states that the number of fires in the Amazon increased by 111 percent since the start of his presidency nearly one year ago; and BBC News says the Cerrado had more nearly 20,000 fires burning in September, which is significantly more than the number in the Amazon.

Amazon fires 2

© Greenpeace

As a result, Greenpeace International is now calling on fast food companies to take a stand and refuse to buy meat raised on Brazilian soy. Greenpeace Brazil's campaign director, Tica Minami, points out:

"President Bolsonaro can only pursue his anti-environmental agenda so long as companies are willing to accept the products that fuel destruction and exacerbate climate change. Fast food companies buying from Brazil cannot continue business as usual while the biggest rainforest in the world is burnt down for cattle farms."

If farmers and fast food companies do stop sourcing soy from Brazil, it will send a powerful message to climate-deniers like Bolsonaro who are perversely willing to sacrifice 'the lungs of the Earth' for financial gain. Such action would state clearly that "we can't protect the climate without the Amazon."

While shifting sourcing elsewhere would be a huge hassle for companies (and nearly impossible, given the enormity of Brazil's contribution), it does speak to a bigger problem of rampant meat consumption in a world where all of us need to eat less – and better quality when we do. That is Greenpeace's final recommendation to individuals, wanting to take action in the meantime: "Eat less meat and dairy as a way to ease the long-term pressure on the Amazon and other threatened ecosystems."