Forests for Beef? An Unfair Trade

Forests for Beef? An Unfair Trade

We all know of the Amazon rainforest of South America – 5.5 million square kilometres of lush rainforest filled with millions of species of animals and plants, unparalleled by any other biome elsewhere on Earth; producing 20% of the world’s oxygen. But this incredible ecosystem is facing peril in order to satisfy the growing global demand for beef.

Peer-reviewed research from Nepstad et al. in 2008 found that cattle ranching was the prime driver of deforestation in the Amazon, making up 80% of all deforestation in the region. Brazil is the largest exporter of beef in the world, exporting over USD6 billion worth of beef in 2017 according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association. The demand has only increased since then, with 2019 seeing nearly USD7.4 billion in global exports based on data from Statista. The UN COMTRADE Database reported that in 2020, Malaysia imported over USD22 million worth of frozen bovine products from Brazil, and in 2021, Malaysia and Brazil reached a trade deal to bring in live cattle into Malaysia for domestic slaughter. 

To keep up with the international demand for Brazilian beef products, cattle ranchers have encroached into the Amazon, employing destructive slash and burn methods to clear land for their pastures. This rapid deforestation and burning causes uncontrollable wildfires; displacing wildlife and killing precious flora.

With 11,088 square kilometres of the Amazon deforested between 2019 and 2020 alone, we’re beginning to see major repercussions for not only Brazil and South America, but also for everyone else who shares this planet. Besides the immense, immeasurable loss of irreplaceable flora and fauna, the rainforest will no longer be the “lungs of the world”. Researchers have described this phenomenon as a “tipping point”, warning that the Amazon will emit more carbon than it is capable of absorbing once 20% to 25% of it has been deforested. Last year, Prof Nobre, a professor and leading expert on the Amazon stated that we currently stand at 17%.

The beef industry is, beyond doubt, one of the biggest dangers to the Amazon and all the life within it. And it’s not something we can ignore the consequences of any longer.

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