Tesco has acknowledged that it relies on the word of its suppliers that beef and leather products do not come from illegally deforested land in the Amazon, despite an assertion from the Brazilian Association of Supermarkets (ABRAS) that there can be ‘no guarantee’ of provenance.
In a letter to the Guardian, the company’s corporate and legal affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe said Tesco had ‘sought and received assurances from [its Brazilian suppliers] that the beef products they supply… from the Sao Paolo region have not been made using cattle from the Amazon’.
She was responding to a recent Greenpeace report into beef production in Amazonia, which accuses some of the world’s biggest companies of driving deforestation. Products used by companies such as Tesco, Wal-Mart, Honda, Ikea and Nike were tracked back to ranches built on land illegally cleared of rainforest.
Brazil’s three largest supermarket chains, Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Pao de Acucar, said they would suspend contracts with any producers complicit in the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, following an announcement by ABRAS that there was ‘no guarantee that [their] meat does not come from deforested areas in Amazonia’.
The same report recently prompted Brazil’s development bank BNDES to alter its loans policy for cattle processors, making them conditional upon the traceability of meat and leather products back to individual ranches. Environmentalists argue that a proposed ear-tag system will be open to fraud, however.
According to the Brazilian government, cattle farming is responsible for 80 per cent of Amazonian deforestation, with a hectare lost to the industry every 18 seconds. Forty per cent of the UK’s processed meat comes from Brazil, and 90 per cent of that from the country’s three biggest cattle producers, Bertin, JBS or Marfrig – all part-owned by the Brazilian government.
Neville-Rolfe said she was ‘disappointed’ by the suggestion that Tesco supported Amazonian deforestation. ‘We have made it clear to our suppliers that the use of beef from illegally deforested regions is unacceptable and we are working with them to ensure that no illegal beef is used in our products,’ she wrote. ‘Leather is sold on the open commodities market and is more of a challenge, but we are working to see what progress can be made.’
The International Finance Corporation withdrew a $90 million loan to Bertin, the world's largest beef processor, following the publication of the report, which also saw Mafrig announce it would no longer buy cattle raised in newly deforested areas.