Marfrig, a Brazilian meat company that supplied McDonald’s, Burger King, and other global fast-food chains, bought cattle from a farm that was using deforested land, according to a joint investigation by the Guardian, Repórter Brasil, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The Guardian reported that, in January 2019, inspectors from Ibama, a Brazilian environmental watchdog, found cattle from Limeira Ranch grazing on illegally deforested rainforest inside a protected region, the Triunfo do Xingu environmental protection area in Pará state. This is part of the Amazon currently ravaged by forest fires. As the Bureau noted in its report, one of the key causes of those fires is farmers clearing land for eventual beef pasture.
In its defense, Mafrig claimed that a government certificate had cleared the farm in question and Mafrig claimed to have ended its association with the supplier.
Mafrig is not the only meat company bearing responsibility for deforestation. As the Bureau reported, two other meat giants—Minerva Foods and JBS—have also been accused. The report by the Guardian, Repórter Brasil, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism determined that as much as 500 square kilometers of deforestation every year is attributable to the supply chains for exported beef from these three companies. (For perspective, 500 square kilometers is approximately the size of 123,500 football fields.)
McDonald’s told the Guardian that it had “made a commitment not to purchase raw material from any farm in the Amazon … linked with deforestation” and that it aims to eliminate deforestation from its global supply chain by 2030. Burger King said that it was “working toward” eliminating deforesting from its global supply chain, and that all their suppliers were required to comply with Burger King’s sustainability and forest protection policies.
In a 2016 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists scored Burger King and thirteen other major global beef buyers on their deforestation commitments and practices, concluding that all of the companies had “major gaps in their policies and practices.” This means those companies “may be profiting from selling ‘deforestation-risk beef,’ or beef produced without safeguards that would prevent deforestation.” Furthermore, nine of the 13 companies evaluated lacked “any public policies or plans detailing how they intend to completely eliminate deforestation associated with their beef purchases.”
Corporate news outlets have instead highlighted the new vegetarian burger that Burger King released in early 2019. For example, in April 2019 CNN reported that Burger King’s preliminary market tests of the Impossible Whopper had gone “exceedingly well” and that it planned to introduce the new product across the nation later in the year. The only sources quoted in CNN’s report were spokespeople from Burger King or its parent company, Restaurant Brands International; the report made no mention of deforestation in the Amazon, or that rising demand for soy—one of the main ingredients in the vegetarian Impossible Whopper—was driving deforestation in the region. In its coverage of the Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, Newsweek provided dates and places where readers could find the Impossible Whopper tour bus and sample the company’s new meatless burger—but made no mention of deforestation in the Amazon.
Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal, and André Campos, “Leading Burger Supplier Sourced from Amazon Farmer Using Deforested Land,” The Guardian, September 17, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/leading-burger-supplier-sourced-from-amazon-farmer-guilty-of-deforestation.
Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal, and André Campos, “UK Purchased £1bn of Beef from Firms Tied to Amazon Deforestation,” Bureau of Investigative Reporting, September 17, 2019, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-09-17/uk-purchased-1-billion-of-beef-from-firms-tied-to-amazon-deforestation.
“Greenpeace Targets Burger King over Amazon Fires and Deforestation,” The Scotsman, September 23, 2019, https://www.scotsman.com/business/greenpeace-targets-burger-king-over-amazon-fires-and-deforestation-1-5009467.
Student Researcher: Michelle Ann Stanton (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Erica Tom (Sonoma State University)
Editor’s Note: Previous Project Censored reports have documented how many of the same fast food companies and their suppliers are responsible for environmental destruction in the Gulf of Mexico; see “Corporate Food Brands Drive Massive Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico,” story #13 from Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass.