photo: Leonardo F Freitas via flickr.
We've covered the cattle-deforestation connection in the Amazon on a number of occasions, and a new report from Greenpeace drives home the point: Raising cattle for beef and leather is a major factor in deforestation in the Amazon, and several international shoe brands may be buying leather from deforested areas and may not even know they are doing it:Slaughtering the Amazon lays out the startling rate at which cattle raising is driving deforestation, saying that 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon region is now due to legal and illegal cattle ranches. And that's according to the Brazilian government.
Brazil Beating Indonesia in Deforestation
In total Brazil now has the highest annual rate of deforestation anywhere in the world—which is saying something considering the rates at which Indonesia and Malaysia are chopping down forests in pursuit of more palm oil plantations. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon now accounts for 14% of total global deforestation.
All of this deforestation makes Brazil the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, when all sources of emissions (not just fossil fuel burning and industry) are considered.
Leather 'Laundering' Hides Source from Industry & Consumers
As far as the connection between shoe brands—Greenpeace singles out Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Timberland, and others—and leather from cattle raised in deforested areas is concerned, the report says that these brands may believe that they don't use leather from these sources, but the reality may be different:
Greenpeace's undercover investigation into the Brazilian cattle industry has exposed the many convoluted steps in the complex global trade in leather and beef products from part-Brazilian-government-owned corporations Bertin, JBS and Marfrig. We have identified hundreds of ranches belonging to these companies that are within the Amazon rainforest and supplying cattle to slaughterhouses in the Amazon region. Where we were able to obtain mapped boundaries for ranches, satellite analysis reveals that significant supplies of cattle come from ranches active in recent and illegal deforestation. Trade data also reveal trade with ranches using modern-day slavery. Additionally, one Bertin slaughterhouse receives supplies of cattle from an illegal ranch occupying Indian Lands.
These slaughterhouses in the Amazon region ship their hides and beef to company facilities thousands of miles away in the south of Brazil for further processing before export. In a number of cases, additional processing takes place in import countries before the final product reaches the market. In effect, criminal or "dirty" supplies of cattle are being "laundered" through this supply chain to an unwitting global market.
Brazil Seeks to Strengthen Position as World's Largest Beef Exporter
All of this is a minimum overlooked by the Brazilian government, and at worst aided and abetted:
The Brazilian government is bankrolling a massive expansion of the cattle industry in an attempt to dominate the global market for agricultural commodities, including cattle products. Brazil already maintains the largest commercial cattle herd in the world, and is the leading exporter of beef as well as the largest exporter of tanned leather (a title it shares with China). The total value of Brazil's cattle trade in 2008 was nearly $7 billion, more than a quarter of which came from leather. One in every three tons of beef traded internationally comes from Brazil, and the country's government forecasts that by 2018 almost two out of every three tons of beef will come from Brazil.
Just a reminder (again), tropical deforestation is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions—even more than from all transportation sources in the world combined.
More: Slaughtering the Amazon
Cattle Pastures in Deforested Amazon Now the Size of Icelandâ€¨
New Cattle Pastures Far Bigger Problem Than Soy for Amazon Deforestation
Brazil Announces Plan to Slow Amazon Deforestation by 70%
Brazil's Lula: "Amazon People Don't Want the Region to be a Sanctuary