Indirect livestock suppliers: a tour through Pará
Tracking the origin of cattle along the beef chain is easier when the animals that arrive at meat packing companies have been through the whole cycle at the same property (pre-weaning – when the calves are still suckling, post-weaning – which begins soon after weaning, and feeder or termination – the phase in which the animal reaches an adequate weight and subcutaneous fat width for slaughter).
Problems occur when there is no information on the properties where the animals were born or have subsequently passed through – whether these are legal or not. This is where the problem of indirect suppliers originates, as the more farms livestock passes through before slaughter, the more difficult it is to trace its origin.
“Indirect suppliers are farms that pass animals on to other farms and are generally involved in the pre and post-weaning phases. Feeder farms are called direct suppliers when they market livestock for slaughter directly to meat packers,” explains Edegar Rosa, coordinator of WWF-Brazil’s Agriculture and Food Program.
The problem with indirect suppliers, especially in the state of Pará, became more evident as a result of the “Carne Fria” operation coordinated by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the second phase of which exploded in March of this year. The agency accused companies of purchasing cattle that at some point had passed through illegal farms. At the time, meat packing industry representatives rushed to defend themselves, alleging that, “You cannot blame the company for something that it cannot see”.
According to the Image Processing and Geoprocessing Lab`s (LAPIG) Socioenvironmental Risk platform and WWF-Brazil, Pará is home to more than 16 million hectares of pasture and over 20 million cattle. Pará is also home to the Brazilian municipality that boasts the largest herd: São Felix do Xingu, with 2,222,949 cattle.
And for this reason, a convoy led by the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and WWF-Brazil travelled to Pará alongside representatives from industry, agricultural input suppliers, financial institutions, universities and NGOs, to gain a better understanding of the meat production process in the Amazon and how this is linked to the deforestation of this biome.
According to the NGO Friends of the Earth – Brazilian Amazon, livestock occupies 80% of illegally deforested areas in the Amazon and is responsible for most cases of slave-like work that have been identified in the country. Even though 340 meat packers have signed a livestock term of adjustment of conduct (TAC)*, an agreement that establishes a series of environmental criteria for the purchase of livestock, the accusations keep pouring in.
“During the trip, we talked to some cattle farm and slaughterhouse owners who alerted us to ongoing illegal practices. For example, they informed us that illegal cattle farms (that raise cattle in illegally deforested areas) cannot sell their livestock to meat packers that have signed the TAC, so they sell to those who have not signed up or to illegal slaughterhouses in Pará or in neighbouring states such as Amazonas or Tocantins, taking advantage of weak industry supervision,” explains Luiza Lima, full conservation analyst for WWF-Brazil.
In other words, those operating illegally can still find a way to market their products. To find out more about meat packing operations in the Amazônia Legal region, we recommend the study “Will meat packing plants help halt deforestation in the Amazon?” published by Imazon and the Centre of Life Institute (ICV).
But is it possible to produce without deforesting? Mauro Lúcio, owner of the Marupiara cattle farm in the municipality of Tailândia believes that, “This is not just possible, but also profitable.” Focused on increasing the productivity of his herd, last year he signed up to a pilot project involving animal monitoring tools to perfect the management of his property, and he has already noticed some improvements.
“I can monitor the growth, weight gain and the development of each animal using this platform. And this monitoring enables me to get rid of animals that are not productive and identify their suppliers,” he explains. Originally from Minas Gerais, Mauro has been raising post-weaned and feeder cattle over the 482 hectares of his farm since 1997. He claims that the new monitoring system has led to a 19% increase in the productivity of his livestock.
A consensus has still not been reached on what kind of tool can be used to monitor the whole chain. Agreements such as the livestock TAC help to identify illegal practices, but they still do not offer a solution to the problem.
The livestock tour, which was the last field visit to be held in 2017, was organised as an engagement strategy by the Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture, a global incentive for the construction of zero-deforestation soy and beef supply chains. Initially created by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the CFA is co-led by the WWF, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
“As part of the Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture Markets Initiative, we are working with a large network of civil society organisations and companies to identify and to close the gaps in existing monitoring and tracking systems so that consumers and society as a whole can be sure that the beef available on supermarket shelves has not been produced in deforested areas,” states Luiza.
This year, the Collaboration organised four trips for key actors from the private sector with the aim of providing a first-hand experience of the expansion of soy and livestock production on Brazil’s agricultural frontier in the country’s forest and savannah areas, and the land use dynamic present in these regions.
“Understanding the dynamic between the meat packers and producers, how monitoring issues can interfere with the lives of producers and what this really means for meat packing plants is essential. This will help me to relate this to my everyday job working with our associates,” stated Bianca Nakamato, sustainability analyst for the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC).
- Bianca Yukie Maldonado Nakamato from ABIEC
- Bruna Yumi Kassama from ABPA
- Rafael Brugger from Caixa Econômica Federal
- Marco Antonio Alvares Balsalobre from Trouw Nutrition (Grupo Nutreco)
- Ricardo Andrade Reis from Unesp
- Nicole Polsterer from FERN
- Aline Camargo Aguiar from Rabobank
- Cristiane Santana da Silva from The Forest Trust (TFT)
- Gabriela Russo Lopes from IPAM
- Marcelo Stabile from IPAM
- Luiza Lima from WWF-Brasil
- Mathias Almeida from Natcap
- Marco Federico Mantovani da Associação Amigos from Terra
- Maria Fernanda Maia from WWF-Brasil