Are Brazilians eating the Cerrado?

André Vasconcelos and Helen Burley

Photo: Parque Nacional Chapada das Mesas in the Cerrado, Brazil, by André Vasconcelos

(Available in Portuguese here)

Brazil’s role as a global exporter of commodities such as soy can overshadow the size of its own domestic market. So while international brands who have committed to zero deforestation are keen to ensure their soy does not come from recently deforested areas, are Brazilian and international companies serving the domestic market selling deforestation as a hidden ingredient in meat and dairy produce?

Using data from Trase we found that in 2016 nearly 40 percent of the soy from the 20 municipalities with the highest rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado was being consumed in the domestic market.

In Matopiba, an agriculture frontier where soy expansion has been recently linked to native vegetation clearance, a third of the 2016 soy harvest was consumed in Brazil.

How does soy end up in our diets?

Soy finds its way into our diets primarily as a key protein ingredient in animal feed. Three quarters of the soy crushed in Brazil is processed into soymeal and almost all of that (more than 90%) goes into feed used for raising chickens, pigs and cattle in Brazil. Twenty percent is processed into soybean oil and predominantly used for biodiesel.

Only a very small amount of soy ends up on our plate directly as food products like tofu, soy milk and others.

Deforestation in your shopping basket

More than half of Brazilian soy is grown in the Cerrado, where soy farms have expanded rapidly, driving the clearance of highly biodiverse woodland and savannah native vegetation. Agrosatélite data shows that between 2000 and 20179.5 million extra hectares of land were used for soy, with one third of this converted from Cerrado.

That means the Cerrado’s rich biodiversity is currently paying the price for Brazil’s, and other consumer countries’ demand for soy, chicken, pork and beef.

In Brazil, the meat sector is highly consolidated, with just three companies, JBS, BRF and Marfrig, accounting for 90% of sales. None of these companies have policies in place to ensure they do not buy soy that has been grown in deforested areas of the Cerrado, in contrast to the protection given to forests in the Amazon.

What can be done?

While some of the international companies importing soy from Brazil have made commitments to remove the risk of deforestation in their supply chains, Global Canopy’s assessment for Forest 500 shows that companies involved in cattle supply chains are lagging behind.

For efforts to protect the Cerrado to be successful it is essential that companies supplying the Brazilian domestic market recognise the deforestation risks in their supply chains, and introduce and implement deforestation free supply chain commitments that cover the Cerrado.