I’m heartbroken. The Amazon Rainforest — an ancient source of life for the planet — is going up in flames. On Monday Aug. 19, the residents of Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, were frightened by plumes of dark smoke from wildfires in the rainforest. This smoke lasted for more than an hour, plunging the sky into darkness at only 3 p.m, according to local news.
News like this can make you feel hopeless, but there is something you can do: boycott beef.
But let’s back up a bit first, and explain why the Amazon is so important to all of our lives.
This crisis didn’t start on Aug. 19. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Amazon rainforest has seen an 83% increase in wildfires since 2018. The rainforest is supposed to be fireproof, but human activity and business interests push nature to seemingly impossible limits.
And Indigenous Brazilians have been at the forefront, protecting the “Lungs of the Planet,” despite the danger they face.
Indigenous leaders from the Amazon have told the world that far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s violent anti-indigenous rhetoric and destructive environmental policies are putting their communities — and the world — at risk. He has allowed companies to set fire to the Amazon and raid indignous lands, all in the name of profit. Since Bolsonaro’s regime began, there has been a 150% increase in illegal invasions of indigenous lands, according to Amazon Watch.
Indigenous people in Brazil have risked their lives to defend their land from poachers, loggers, and miners. A 2019 Global Witness report showed that 20 environmental activists in Brazil were murdered that year. Other Indigenous leaders, like Wajãpi tribe leader Emyra Wajãpi, were murdered in illegal land raidings.
Producing 20% of the earth’s oxygen and containing 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, this rainforest is considered to be “The Earth’s Lungs.” We all depend on it to survive, especially the Indigenous, who guard the rainforest from corporate exploitation. Fires are often intentionally set in the rainforest, to clear out land for mining, farming, and ranching.
Enter the boycott.
The boycott is a tried and true method of resistance. But if you live in Europe, China, the United States, Canada, or Australia, you may think your boycott can’t help save the Amazon Rainforest, or support the Indigenous people of Brazil.
But your money — especially if you eat beef and other meats — is almost certainly funding the degradation of the Amazon rainforest.
The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) released a comprehensive report titled “Complicity In Destruction II: How Northern Consumers and Financiers Enable Bolsonaro’s Assault on the Brazilian Amazon.” The report details the Indigenous-led call for people in the aforementioned countries to boycott certain Brazilian products and businesses that invade their lands and engage in illegal deforestation for profit.
The APIB report says that “Ranching alone leads to approximately 80% of Amazon deforestation, with 80% of Amazon forests cleared since 2014 being occupied by cattle,” and bringing in 5.4 billion for Brazil in 2017. It also implicates the soy industry’s responsibility in deforestation, saying that in 2017, “Brazilian soy accounted for 14.3% of the country’s total exports, generating $31.0 billion.”
In a statement, Eloy Terena, APIB’s legal counsel, said: “Traders in Europe and North America can help by cutting ties with these bad Brazilian actors, thus sending a clear signal to Jair Bolsonaro that the rest of the world will not tolerate his policies.”
There are many Brazilian products that are contributing to deforestation, like timber and fossil fuels. But beef is an incredibly easy product to boycott — barring any medical or cultural needs that require beef consumption, of course.
When boycotting beef, you want to avoid specific Brazilian companies like JBS, Mafrig, and Minerva. For example, JBS is the largest animal protein company in the world. They’re not just limited to Brazil either, they have processing plants in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. The owners of JBS, the Batista brothers, have been arrested for bribing agriculture officials.
If you go to these companies’ websites, you will see lists (separated by country) of beef brands to eliminate from your diet. The names will shock you with their familiarity.
I want to stress here that cutting out beef from your diet — regardless of the brand — is also a climate action that you should take if you are medically and culturally able to do so. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse emissions come from animal agriculture and of those emissions, beef and lamb production make up 65% come from cattle.
But if you can’t give up beef entirely, then I recommend getting the meat from a local rancher and making sure that the cattle are grass-fed, and that their feed is not made from soy or corn.
Soy is a lesser-known contributor to the climate crisis, but it’s proven quite destructive for Indigenous communities in the Amazon Rainforest. Like cattle, land is often stolen and fires are intentionally set to make way for planting soy.
So does this mean that you need to boycott tofu, soy milk, and soy sauce? It would be good to look into where their soy is sourced, but you might be surprised at what soy is mostly used for. 70–75% of all soy is grown to feed chickens and other livestock animals. So the best way to send a signal on soy? Refrain from meat that has been fed with it.
When you boycott, tell other people what you’re doing. I cut beef out of my diet because my partner’s friend one day, very randomly, told me that she had stopped eating it for the environment. That one offhand comment changed my diet. You never know how you might be impacting others. I would also urge you to Ask your local stores and restaurants to join you. Get a group of people together in your community — consider reaching out to a community organizer to help — and start a campaign aimed at convincing local shops to reduce or eliminate their sale of beef, soy, and soy/corn-fed meat.
In addition to boycotts, there are plenty of organizations to donate to if you want to support Indigenous rights and their fight to guard the forest. One of my favorite organizations is Amazon Watch, which has a long history of advocacy for Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin. They also have several petitions and pledges you can sign. Another good organization is RAN’s Protect-an-Acre Program, which gives grants directly to Indigenous-led organizations that are protecting Indigenous rights and the rainforest.
If these Brazilian companies start losing a significant amount of profits, we will start to see change. This world revolves around money and power. Take away their money. Take away their power. You have the power to use your voice and your wallet to change our reality. And we need to do that, because the current path is going to destroy us all.