European supermarkets stop selling Brazil beef over deforestation links

An aerial view shows cattle on a deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO/AMSTERDAM, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Six European supermarket chains, including two owned by Dutch firm Ahold Delhaize (AD.AS) and a Carrefour (CARR.PA) subsidiary, said on Wednesday they would stop selling some or all beef products from Brazil due to links with destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

The pledges ranged from supermarket chain Lidl Netherlands, which committed to stop selling all beef originating in South America starting in 2022, to more focused decisions to halt sales of certain corned beef or beef jerky products.

Many of the products affected are linked to the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA (JBSS3.SA).

The boycotts are in response to an investigation by Brazilian publication Reporter Brasil that alleged JBS indirectly sourced cows from illegally deforested areas, in a scheme known as "cattle laundering."

This occurs when cattle raised on an illegally deforested plot of land are sold to a legitimate farm before sale to a slaughterhouse, to hide its origin.

JBS told Reuters it has zero tolerance for illegal deforestation and has blocked more than 14,000 suppliers for failing to comply with its policies. The company said monitoring indirect suppliers - the ones before the final seller to the slaughterhouse - is a challenge for the entire sector, but that JBS will institute a system capable of doing so by 2025.

The Brazilian meatpacker said that Reporter Brasil's research mentioned only five out of 77,000 direct JBS suppliers and that those suppliers met the company's policies at the time of purchase.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, has soared since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and rolled back environmental protections. He has said he aims for more farming and mining to lift the region out of poverty.

Deforestation hit a 15-year high in 2021 with an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut being cleared.

Most of the denuded land is used for cattle ranching.

Among other commitments, Ahold Delhaize's subsidiary Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, will stop sourcing beef from Brazil entirely.

An Albert Heijn spokesperson told Reuters that the company currently sells only a handful of corned beef and beef jerky with Brazilian origins each week.

Auchan France will also remove beef jerky products linked to JBS from its shelves. Carrefour Belgium and Delhaize supermarkets will stop selling Jack Link's brand beef jerky.

JBS and Jack Link's have a joint venture that produces jerky. Jack Link's did not respond to a request for comment.

J Sainsbury Plc's (SBRY.L) Sainsbury's UK will stop sourcing its store brand corned beef from Brazil, but said that 90% of its beef is already sourced from the Britain and Ireland.

Reporting by Jake Spring in Sao Paulo and Anthony Deustch in Amsterdam Editing by Matthew Lewis

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Thomson Reuters

Global Climate & Environment Correspondent, based in Brazil. Interests include science, forests, geoengineering, cryosphere, climate policy/diplomacy, accountability and investigative reporting. His work on environmental destruction under Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro received awards from Covering Climate Now and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Previously based in China, he is fluent in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.