In late January, reporters with Brazilian publication ((o))eco left on a journalistic expedition to the state of Pará. Their goal was to discover the origins and the main effects of the so-called “Zero Deforestation Beef Agreement” signed between the Federal Public Ministry and major slaughterhouses operating in the Amazon, which forced the slaughterhouses to fight deforestation in the farms where they bought cattle for slaughter.
Azeredo’s first step was to study the causes behind the clearing of the forest. Experts pointed to cattle ranching as a major culprit. Work by the NGO Institute of Man and Environment in the Amazon (Imazon), for instance, had shown that livestock accounted for 80 percent of total deforestation in the Amazon.
“We spent one year and a half investigating business dealings of the livestock chain to be able to prove that the cattle produced on illegally deforested areas in the region was being sold in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and other major cities of Brazil,” Azeredo said. “And it was also being exported and used by major companies worldwide.”
The next step was to sue ranchers and slaughterhouses caught selling cattle raised on deforested land. Then the MPF sent more than 200 supermarket chains a “Recommendation” — a legal term for the warning that precedes a lawsuit — not to buy beef from suppliers that had caused illegal deforestation.
That was when Azeredo had an idea that even the staunchest ruralist opponents have recognized as brilliant. The state of Pará has about 250,000 ranches, and there are hundreds of supermarket chains with more than 80,000 stores spread across the country. But the link between those cattle ranches and the supermarkets is formed by just a few dozen medium and large slaughterhouse operators that are responsible for butchering the cattle and distributing the resulting “cattle products” – companies such as JBS, Bertin (later bought by JBS), Marfrig, and Minerva.
Azeredo’s plan was to turn those slaughterhouse operators into guardians against deforestation.
Prosecutor Daniel Azeredo’s idea was simple and effective. The MPF had caught slaughterhouses buying deforestation cattle and applied fines totaling two billion Brazilian real (about $500 million). But an even more powerful instrument of pressure was the fear that buying illegal beef provoked in large supermarkets, such as Pão de Açucar and Walmart. With the possibility of being sued, they would rather avoid beef from Pará, which would be perhaps a fatal blow to the state’s slaughterhouses.
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