For Brazil-based JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, its cattle sustainability strategy has two related objectives: ensuring that it isn’t sourcing any of its raw materials from deforested land or from suppliers breaching the labor rights of their employees; and working with its suppliers to help guarantee sufficient volumes of sustainable raw material.
The company’s efforts in this area date back to the so-called ‘Cattle Agreement’ with Greenpeace to not source from farms linked to deforestation in the Amazon biome or using slave labor after 2009. To do so, JBS has developed a social and environmental monitoring system that allows it to monitor the regulatory status of some 70,000 cattle ranchers daily. “We verify, every single day, that our suppliers are in compliance,” says Marcio Nappo, the company’s São Paulo-based corporate director of sustainability.
That system cross-references suppliers against government lists of employers fined for breaking slave-labor laws and areas of illegal deforestation. It then overlays geo-referenced maps provided by the ranch manager or by Brazil’s CAR (Rural Environmental Registry), on deforestation satellite images or maps from public agencies such as INPE (the National Institute of Space Research). This allows JBS to confirm they are not responsible for deforestation or encroaching on indigenous land.
For those without digital maps of their property, JBS runs a program to generate one, at no cost to the supplier. Its Easy Map system involves a short session with a JBS employee in which the rancher traces their property boundary on a tablet.
Another element of the support that JBS provides is its Legal Supplier Program. The company has created a network of environmental consultants that can offer low-cost, quality-assured help to ranchers to ensure they meet government requirements around land-use disclosure. “JBS works as a channel to bring together suppliers who need technical assistance, and the environmental consultants who can provide it,” says Nappo.
An important element of JBS’s sustainability supply strategy is its participation in the Novo Campo – or ‘New Field’ – program. This initiative, launched in 2013 by Brazilian not-for-profit Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), encourages ranchers to adopt sustainable practices with a view to increasing productivity and quality, thus reducing the need for additional grazing land. It also helps ranchers reforest degraded land, ensuring they meet the requirements of the Forest Code.
The program generates significant benefits for suppliers. A pilot scheme, covering just 5-10% of the land of six farms, cut methane emissions in half across the entire farm, reduced the slaughtering age, and doubled productivity, leading to increases in annual gross margin from R$0-100 to R$600 per hectare.
JBS’s participation in the program has also had tangible benefits to its own business: this year, McDonald’s partnered with JBS to produce a verified sustainable hamburger from suppliers within the Amazon participating in the Novo Campo program, says Nappo.
“The JBS vision of the future of livestock farming in Brazil is about increasing productivity, improving the quality of the raw material, and addressing the sustainability of cattle farms. It’s a very integrated view,” says Nappo.
JBS also recognizes the need to work with its competitors and customers to drive deforestation out of the livestock supply chain in Brazil. He notes that the Cattle Agreement, with the three largest meat processors, only covers around half of the marketplace. “We frequently sit down with Greenpeace, and our competitors, to discuss how we can make the agreement more robust, and how we can bring together the rest of our value chain.”
“Given our scale of operation and the leadership position we have taken, JBS can be a ‘game-changer’ in several issues across the beef value chain ... We can influence the entire supply chain over time to prevent deforestation, one of the most important sources of greenhouse emissions in Brazil,”
The latest front is Brazil’s retail sector. Last year, Greenpeace launched a campaign to encourage the big supermarkets to verify the sources of their meat. “Since that campaign, the three largest supermarkets in Brazil, responsible for 40% of the retail beef market, have made an agreement with Greenpeace. We’re working with them to bring the rest of the industry into this zero-deforestation commitment.”