Photo via the New York Times
The largest rainforest in the world is being chopped down almost entirely for a single purpose: beef. That's right, one of the biggest, most beautifully diverse ecosystems on the planet is being traded in—for hamburgers. According to a report from Mongabay, a full 80 percent of the land cleared by Amazon deforestation from 1996-2006 has been used to create cattle pastures.
The rainforest has been cleared at an astonishing rate over the last 12 years—and the cattle craze in the Amazon is only going to get worse.
Deforesting the Amazon in the Name of Beef
Since 1996, 10 million hectares have been deforested in the Brazilian Amazon just for cattle ranching—an area of land about the size of Iceland. And evidently, all that clearing has only whetted the Brazilian government's appetite for beef. From Mongabay:
Now the government aims to double the country's share of the beef export market to 60% by 2018 through low interest loans, infrastructure expansion, and other incentives for producers. Most of this expansion is expected to occur in the Amazon were land is cheap and available — 70 percent of the country's herd expansion between 2002 and 2006 occurred in the region.
Even More Bad News for the Beefy Amazon
On top of the government's initiative, unchecked, illegal deforestation also runs rampant as well, due to ineffective forest land reserve laws, meager policing, and corruption in frontier areas.
What's more, thanks to Brazil's booming beef trade, the cattle ranchers and agriculture businesses have extremely influential lobbies:
Many of the country's most influential politicians are linked to the industry. At the behest of these interests, over the past year the Brazilian Congress has introduced measures that would significantly curtail the capacity of environmental NGOs and scientists to operate in the Amazon.
And for good measure, let's add to the bad news list the fact that around 75 percent of Brazil's annual greenhouse gas emissions come from Amazon deforestation.
Goodbye verdant life, hello happy meals. Photo via Tour Amazon
A Glimmer of Amazonian Hope
But let's end on some hopeful news in Brazil. There are some plans to slow Amazon deforestation:
Under a plan proposed by the federal government, Brazil aims to establish a $21 billion fund to drastically reduce emissions from deforestation over the next decade. The plan calls for a mix of conservation measures, improve governance and law enforcement, and initiatives to promote sustainable use of the Amazon.
And one last glimmer:
There are also emerging signs that industry is taking an interest in improving public perception of its environmental performance in Amazonia. Several new initiatives — including the ABIOVE moratorium on soy, Aliança da Terra for beef, and Pará's IDEFLOR sustainable forest program — are seeking to reduce the impact of operations on the Amazon in response to pressure from the environmental lobby.
Not exactly overwhelmingly reassuring. Nonetheless, the seeds of progress seem to have been planted. Let's just hope the initiatives can gain momentum before the largest rainforest in the world is replaced by the world's largest beef factory.
More on Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest:
Amazon Condoms To Preserve Forests and Reduce Imports in Brazil
No More Amazon Deforestation for Soya, Says McDonald's
The 7000km Journey That Links Amazon Destruction To McDonald's