Forest risk commodities

Beef & Leather

Expansion of cattle-ranching is the key driver of deforestation in Latin America and is reported to be responsible for around 75% of deforestation in Brazil1, the country with the largest herd and whose deforestation is best monitored. In the 1980s, well-known environmentalist Norman Myers coined the phrase “the hamburger connection” to describe deforestation resulting from fast food chains in the United States greatly increasing their beef imports from Central America. At the time Brazil exported very little beef, but exports have increased by a factor of three in the last decade and 80% of the growth in production has been in the Amazon2.

Supply

  • Brazil is a leader in the global cattle product trade with an estimated 190 million head of cattle, 70 million of which are in the Brazilian Amazon. It is the largest exporter of beef and leather and live animals and has a target to double cattle exports (particularly leather) by 20183.
  • Many products make their way to into major leather brands sold around the world via processing in Italy and China and the demand is growing4.

Demand

  • The largest importers of beef are the United States, Russia and Japan, accounting for 44% of global imports from 2007 to 20115.
  • While consumption of Brazilian beef is primarily domestic, Brazil’s beef export market rapidly expanded in the past decade, and made Brazil the world’s biggest exporter of beef6. Between 2005 and 2009, almost a quarter of beef produced in Brazil was exported7.
  • Meat exports often remain relatively strong during financial crises as consumers tend not to switch away from meat, but rather trade down to lower cost products.
  • The demand for proteins from animal products is projected to rise over the coming years, driven by population increase and shifts in consumer preference linked to growing affluence in emerging markets8. From 2007 to 2011 Brazil accounted for 22% of global beef exports, and, as the global recession fades and demand for meat increases, exports of Brazilian beef are expected to rise.
  • As well as all food products containing beef, plus all clothing, furniture and accessories that are made of leather, there is also demand for products that use tallow (rendered beef fat) and all other products derived from cattle such as soap.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

  • Livestock occupies around 30% of the world’s land surface9 and is the largest driver of tropical deforestation on earth, particularly in Latin America10.
  • The cattle sector is also a substantial contributor to GHG emissions11, contributing around 12% of global GHG emissions . From 2003-08, CO2 emissions from pasture in the Brazilian Amazon averaged 50% of Brazil’s total emissions12. Beef produced in Brazil emits far greater quantities of CO2 than US beef – around 15 times the amount of CO2eq per kg of meat13. This is due in part to poor pasture management, which supports an average of just one head of cattle per hectare and the higher slaughter age of Brazilian cattle, resulting in a low yield of food per hectare. Beef from deforested areas only constitutes a small proportion of total production in Brazil, but this beef produces an estimated 25 times more CO2 emissions than beef produced in the rest of Brazil14.
  • Beef production has other sustainability impacts that will become major challenges in a resource constrained world - 1 kg of beef requires 15,500 liters of water to produce, versus 250 for potatoes15.
  • NGO campaigns have also highlighted the link between creating cattle pasture and destruction of the Amazon forest; these include Amigos da Terra Amazônia Brasileira’s ‘Time to Pay the Bill’ and Greenpeace’s ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ in 2009. Following the release of the reports in 2009, and legal action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the Amazon state of Pará, four key meatpackers, controlling a third of Amazon slaughter (JBS, Bertín, Marfrig and Minerva), signed an agreement with Greenpeace. The G4 Cattle Agreement established a timeline for purchasing only from ranches that can demonstrate zero deforestation.
  • Brazil has set a national target to double leather and beef exports by 2018, which threatens to drive up deforestation16. One way of reaching this goal without expanding into forests is through intensification of livestock. Current cattle production is extensive, with low levels of productivity. However, techniques developed by the Brazilian Government Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), such as improved pasture grass mixtures, rotational grazing, weeding and improved cattle breeds, can result in an increase of stocking rates from around 1 per hectare to 2 or 3.
  • Brazil has good forest laws but has lacked the resources to implement them. It has made an ambitious commitment to reduce deforestation 80% by 2020 and in recent years, Brazil has dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation by 75% from its 2004 peak17. This has been achieved despite increases in world food prices and continued steady growth of the country’s cattle herd and export market. However, changes to the Brazilian Forest Code, which weaken forest protection, threaten this progress.

Sustainability mechanisms for the beef/leather industry

  • The multi-stakeholder Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) aims to facilitate a global dialogue on beef production that is environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
  • The Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock (GTPS) was created in 2007 and formally constituted in June 2009. The roundtable consists of representatives from different sectors that make up the value chain of cattle production in Brazil.
  • The GRSB, GTPS and Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) formed a joint Working Group on Forests, to support the forum’s goal of “zero net deforestation by 2020”.
  • The Leather Working Group (LWG) was created to improve environmental standards in the leather industry and its members include major leather brands and tanneries such as Adidas, New Balance, Nine West, Puma and Nike. The group’s revised Tanning Auditing Protocol calls for improved traceability for leather sourced from Brazil and processed by tanneries that supply its members.
  • The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) developed a Standard for Sustainable Cattle Production Systems in 2010 in response to rainforest destruction resulting from cattle farming. In 2012, ranches in Mato Grosso, Brazil became the first in the world to earn Rainforest Alliance certification under the SAN standard.

Beef import and export data sourced from USDA. (2012) Livestock and poultry: world markets and trade

1 Bustamante MMC, et al. (2012) Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle raising in Brazil. Climate Change 115, 559-577.
2 Walker N, et al. (In Press) From Amazon Pasture to the High Street: Deforestation and the Brazilian Cattle Product Supply Chain. Tropical Conservation Science.
3 "Projeções do Agronegócio Brasil 2008/09 a 2018/19."Brasília: Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento, 2009.
4 Walker N, et al. (In Press) From Amazon Pasture to the High Street: Deforestation and the Brazilian Cattle Product Supply Chain. Tropical Conservation Science.
5 USDA. (2011) Brazil: Livestock and products annual
6 COMTRADE. (2011) United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database
7 MDIC. (2011) Ministério do Desenvolvimento Indústria e Comércio Exterior (MDIC), Secretaria do Comércio Exterior (Secex)
8 Foresight. The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.
9 Geist H, et al. (2002) Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation. BioScience 52, 143-150.
10 Hansen MC, et al. (2008) Humid tropical forest clearing form 2000 to 2005 quantified by using multitemporal and multiresolution remotely sensed data. PNAS 105, 9439-9444;
11 PBL (2011) The protein puzzle: The consumption and production of meat, dairy and fish in the European Union
12 Bustamante MMC, et al. (2012) Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle raising in Brazil. Climate Change 115, 559-577.
12 Bustamante MMC, et al. (2012) Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle raising in Brazil. Climate Change 115, 559-577.
13 Ogino A, et al. (2004) Environmental impacts of the Japanese beef-fattening system with different feeding lengths as evaluated by a life-cycle assessment method. J. Anim. Sci 82, 2115-2122; Subak, S. (1999) Global environmental costs of beef production. Ecological Economics 30, 79-71.
14 Cederberg C, et al. (2011) Including Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in the Carbon Footprint of Brazilian Beef. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 1773-1779.
15 Foresight. The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.
16 "Projeções do Agronegócio Brasil 2008/09 a 2018/19." Brasília: Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento, 2009.
17 Deforestation data for Brazil from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Global beef production

Five year average by weight (2007-2011).
Source: USDA 2011.

Global beef production 

Global beef exports

Global beef exports
Source: USDA 2011.

Global beef exports 

Global beef imports

Five year average by weight (2007-2011).
Source: USDA 2011.

Global beef imports 

 
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