Brazil seizes cattle to stem Amazon destruction

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil seized thousands of head of cattle in the Amazon as part of a crackdown on illegal farming and logging, which fuels destruction of the world’s largest rain forest, the environment minister said on Tuesday.

Virgin Amazon jungle is burned to clear land for cattle pasture, on a private ranch near the Jarina Indian reserve October 1, 2006. REUTERS/Jamil Bittar

The announcement follows growing international concern over rising deforestation rates and the resignation last month of the former minister Marina Silva, who was widely seen as a guardian of the Amazon.

Brazil’s powerful farmers, who are riding a global commodity boom, are likely to contest increased controls.

Police and agents from the environmental protection agency IBAMA impounded about 10,000 head of cattle on illegally deforested land in the state of Rondonia. Last week they expropriated a 3,500-strong herd in the state of Para, the new Environment Minister Carlos Minc told a news conference.

“Illegal beef will become an environmental barbecue for zero hunger,” Minc said in reference to a government anti-hunger program that will receive the proceeds from the sale of seized cattle.

Cattle ranching occupies as much as 80 percent of deforested areas, Minc said. An estimated 25 million head of cattle are raised on deforested Amazon land, IBAMA director Flavio Montiel told Reuters.

By year-end Montiel hopes to withdraw hundreds of thousands of head of cattle from illegally deforested areas.

After cattle were seized on a farm in Para last week, neighboring ranchers fearing expropriation complied with court orders and removed their animals from protected areas.

Ranchers are often allied with local politicians and steal government land by falsifying titles and bribing registrars.

IBAMA fined loggers and grain farmers last month and will next target slaughter houses and steel companies that buy charcoal from deforested areas, Minc said.

Outraged farmers said the new measures were irrational and could cause price increases and supply shortages.

“This policy is too emotional and creates conflicts,” Assuero Veronez of the National Agriculture Confederation told Globo TV.

The rate of deforestation is increasing this year for the first time since 2004 as growing demand for food is pushing farmers and ranchers deeper into the forest.

In the 12 months through July deforestation will total as much as 5,792 sq miles -- roughly half the size of Belgium, Minc told Folha de Sao Paulo on Tuesday.

Last year 4,332 sq miles were destroyed, down from a peak of 10,570 sq miles in 2004.