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Meat and Soy: Why is everyone guilty of the Amazon fires?

Meat and Soy: Why is everyone guilty of the Amazon fires?

Two of the industries involved in the hells that consume the Amazon rainforest and draw the attention of the global powers gathered at the G7 meeting in France are familiar to diners around the world: soybeans and beef.

Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter, with a record 1.64 million tons shipped to its main markets, China, Egypt and the European Union in 2018, according to the Brazilian Association of Beef Exporters.

The country has seen an increase in its production in the last two decades, with exports increasing in weight and value 10 times between 1997 and 2016, led by three giant companies: JBS, Minerva and Marfrig.

All of this growth has been at the expense of the Amazon rainforest.

"Extensive ranching is the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, with just over 65 percent of deforested land in the Amazon now being grazed," according to Romulo Batista, a researcher at Greenpeace.

Soy, a major cash crop for Brazil, was also once a major contributor to deforestation.

The crop saw a dramatic increase in cultivation in the 1970s, driven by the migration of farmers, the development of new farming techniques, and the use of pesticides.

Brazil exported a record 83.3 million tons of the harvest in 2018, 22.2 percent more than in 2017, according to the Ministry of Economy.

The country is the main supplier of soybeans to the United States, but ships most of it to China.

Brazilian soybean exports to China increased nearly 30 percent last year thanks to the trade dispute with Washington, which prompted Beijing to seek other sources of the crop it uses to feed livestock.

About 6.5 percent of the deforested area in the Amazon is used for agriculture, but soy's contribution to that has declined over time.

In 2006, a moratorium on the purchase of soybeans in recently deforested areas came into effect, and "less than 2 percent of soybeans planted in the Amazon comes from deforested areas since 2008," Batista said.

However, other forests in Brazil, such as the closed tropical savanna, are being cut down for soybean cultivation. In June, Greenpeace denounced Europe's "addiction" to Brazilian soybeans used in pig and poultry farms.

Official data released Saturday showed that hundreds of new fires were raging in the Amazon, even though thousands of soldiers were on hand to help fight the worst fires in years.

Official figures show that 78,383 forest fires have been registered in Brazil this year, the highest number in any year since 2013. Experts say that the clearing of land during the dry season to make way for crops or grazing has exacerbated the trouble.

More than half of the fires are in the huge Amazon basin, where more than 20 million people live. Some 1,663 new fires were lit between Thursday and Friday, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The new data came a day after Bolsonaro authorized the deployment of the military to fight the fires and crack down on criminal activity. Seven states have requested military assistance in the Amazon, where more than 43,000 soldiers are stationed and available to fight fires, authorities said. Firefighters and planes are also being deployed.

US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attended the G7 summit, have offered help to their countries to fight the fires.

The flames have sparked outrage around the world, with thousands of people protesting in Brazil and Europe on Friday.

The growing crisis threatens to torpedo a highly successful trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil, which took 20 years to negotiate.

EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters at the G7 on Saturday that it was difficult to imagine European countries ratifying a trade pact with the Mercosur bloc as long as Brazil cannot stop the fires raging in the Amazon, which it is known as the "lungs of the planet" due to its crucial role in mitigating climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has taken the lead in pressuring his Brazilian counterpart over the fires, had previously accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about Brazil's stance on climate change.

In a growing war of words between the two leaders, Bolsonaro denounced what he calls Macron's "colonialist mentality."

In a surprise statement on Friday, Macron said he had decided to block the EU-Mercosur deal and accused Bolsonaro of lying by downplaying concerns about climate change.

A spokesperson for the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that not concluding the trade agreement with the Mercosur countries - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - "is not the adequate response to what is happening in Brazil now."

France has long expressed reservations about the Mercosur deal, with Macron warning in June that he would not sign it if Bolsonaro withdrew from the Paris climate accord.

Environmental specialists say the fires are coming amid growing deforestation in the Amazon region, which in July took place at a rate four times higher than the same month in 2018, according to INPE data.

Bolsonaro has previously attacked the institute, describing its data as lies and engineering the looting of its head.

On Friday, he insisted that the fires should not be used as an excuse to punish Brazil.

"There are forest fires all over the world, and this cannot be used as a pretext for possible international sanctions," Bolsonaro said.

Brazil's powerful agricultural sector, which strongly supports Bolsonaro, has expressed concern about the president's rhetoric and fears boycotts of his products in key markets.

In an editorial on Saturday, the respected Folha de S.Paulo newspaper warned that Bolsonaro's "bravado" had worsened the crisis caused by accelerating deforestation.

"The damage to (Brazil's) image has been done and could have significant commercial repercussions," he said.

"The nationalist bravado will not win the game this time."

Video: Beef is Bad for the Climate But How Bad? Hot Mess (October 2020).