The move comes following an investigation by Repórter Brasil and Mighty Earth that tracked deforestation-linked beef to European retail store shelves. JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, has long been on the radar of environmental NGOs and forward-looking investors due to its destructive practices.
In response to record, ongoing deforestation in Brazil and a new investigation documenting their ties to deforestation, supermarket chains in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the UK have announced they will drop Brazilian beef and/or beef products tied to JBS — the world’s largest beef company.
The move comes following a new investigation by Repórter Brasil in partnership with Mighty Earth that tracked deforestation-linked beef to European retail store shelves in the form of beef jerky, corned beef and fresh prime cuts. Mighty Earth shared the findings directly with the companies in advance of planned publication, resulting in this week’s announcements.
“This is a watershed moment, because several huge supermarkets across Europe are saying an emphatic ‘No!’ to Brazilian beef over deforestation concerns,” said Mighty Earth Europe Director Nico Muzi. “This is not a vague commitment or a nice announcement that looks good in a press release. These are a series of concrete commercial actions taken by some of the biggest supermarkets in Europe to stop buying and selling beef from a company and a country that have made too many promises and have delivered too few results.
“Christmas has come early for the forests in the Amazon, the Brazilian Cerrado savannahs and the Pantanal wetlands,” Muzi added.
The major European supermarkets taking a stand against Brazilian beef products are:
Ahold Delhaize — a Dutch food retailer with over 7,000 locations worldwide and revenue of €75 billion in 2020.
Albert Heijn (part of Ahold Delhaize) committed to stop sourcing beef from Brazil for all of its stores. It is the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, with over 1,000 locations and a market share of 35% in 2020.
Delhaize (part of Ahold Delhaize) committed to removing all Jack Link’s products from its shelves. The company is one of the largest supermarket chains in Belgium.
Lidl Netherlands — part of Lidl Stiftung & Co. KG, a German retailer chain with over 11,000 locations worldwide and revenue of over USD$75 billion — committed to stop selling all beef with South American origin as of January 2022.
Carrefour Belgium committed to stop selling Jack Link’s Beef Jerky in Belgium; and the larger Carrefour Group — a French multinational with 15,500 stores worldwide and revenue of €79 billion in 2020 — committed to increasing surveillance in all operating countries.
Auchan France — part of Auchan Retail International S.A., a French multinational with almost 2,000 locations worldwide and revenue of €32 billion in 2020 — committed to removing beef jerky products tied to JBS from its store shelves.
Sainsbury’s UK — the second largest chain of supermarkets in the UK, with a 16% share of the supermarket sector, over 1,400 locations and £32 billion in sales in 2020/21 — committed to moving its own brand corned beef away from Brazil entirely.
Princes Group — an international food and drink company based in Liverpool in the UK with £1.5 billion in revenue in 2020/21 — announced it has not placed a contract for corned beef from JBS since November 2020 and committed to a new sourcing policy for Brazilian material that includes zero deforestation.
“Following the alert received by Repórter Brasil and Mighty Earth, we conducted an immediate investigation,” said Geoffroy Gersdorff, Group Director of Merchandise Offer at Carrefour Group. “As a consequence, Carrefour will stop selling Jack Link’s beef jerky in Carrefour Belgium and will increase its surveillance in all its operating countries. The Group salutes the NGO's commitment to this fight, as dialogue and vigilance on the part of everyone allows us to identify problems and make progress.”
The research by Repórter Brasil and Mighty Earth found multiple examples of “cattle laundering” — beef processed by JBS at its slaughterhouses in low-deforestation areas such as São Paulo, but sourced from cattle raised and fed on farms officially sanctioned – and embargoed – for illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, or tied to destruction of the Cerrado woody savannah and the biodiversity-rich Pantanal tropical wetlands. Regulations aimed at protecting the Amazon in recent years have had the unintended consequence of driving many soy and beef producers into these fragile areas. In 2017, growing awareness of the issue led over 20 global food companies — including Carrefour, Lidl and Sainsbury’s — to sign the Cerrado Manifesto, a call to action for the elimination of deforestation and conversion of native vegetation in the Cerrado. Yet, here we are — four years later: In the past year, the Brazilian Amazon has seen the worst deforestation levels in 15 years; and scientists estimate two-thirds of cleared land in the Amazon and the Cerrado has been converted to cattle pasture.
With annual revenues of $50 billion, JBS — the world’s largest producer of beef, slaughtering almost 35,000 cattle a day in Brazil alone — has been on the radar of environmental NGOs and forward-looking investors for years due to its destructive practices. In 2017, about a third of JBS’s beef exports from Brazil are assessed to have come from the Amazon — and the company’s deforestation practices were linked most closely with the fires that devastated over 2.2M acres of the Amazon rainforest in 2019.
In 2020, the $47 trillion investor network FAIRR released a financial modelling tool aimed at helping investors understand the financial implications of climate change on the meat sector. The model found that the likely physical impacts of climate change and rapid and continuing growth of alternative proteins will put billions of dollars at risk for food sector behemoths such as JBS if they don’t dramatically improve their environmental practices.
“The new research shows JBS continues to sell beef linked to deforestation, even though there are around 650 million hectares of land in Latin America where deforestation-free agricultural production is possible,” Muzi said. “The big news is that Europe is not buying it now. These commercial actions, as well as new EU legislation to stamp out imported deforestation, show that the grip is tightening on forest destroyers.”
“Protecting biodiversity, including preventing deforestation, are central themes within our sustainable purchasing policy,” said Renée Bijvoets, Sustainability Manager for Lidl Netherlands. “Given the risk of deforestation linked to beef with South-American origin, we have decided together with our supplier to look for alternative sourcing. The result is that from January 2022 onwards we will not sell beef with South-American origin in our fixed assortment.”
This past April, Mighty Earth released its newest analysis of deforestation data, which declared JBS the worst-performing meatpacker. It has been linked to 100,000 hectares of clearance the past two years. Some 75 percent of this clearance occurred in protected areas, making it potentially illegal under Brazilian law.