IMPACT ZONE: TROPICAL DEFORESTATION

Beef eaten in Europe, Asia and now North America has traveled a long way from its tropical source, where pastures were once covered with rainforest. Beef production has been a major culprit in tropical deforestation for half a century. Over the last decade, the South American beef industry has drastically improved its impact – but the progress just can’t last. That is, unless the many businesses and government agencies involved in the supply chain start looking at the problem in a new way – at the landscape level.

The Problem with Beef Production: Islands of Green in a Sea of Deforestation

Government agencies as well as powerful processing companies monitor the South American beef industry by keeping tabs on individual ranches. But the system doesn’t cover every operation consistently from calving to slaughter – and the many ranching operations that fall through the cracks can still clear virgin rainforest once their herds have exhausted existing pastures. On the other hand, ranchers who preserve the forest on or around their land aren’t rewarded – they may actually face paperwork and red tape. Some of them reward themselves, illegally, by taking cash and calves from ranchers who aren’t following the rules and so can’t sell directly to some processing companies. When you zoom out from individual ranches, the result is a landscape where protected pockets of forest are always at risk. The beef industry is at risk, too, as more and more retail and food products companies commit to sourcing sustainable beef to avoid damage to their reputations.

Following the Supply Chain – Beef

A sketch of the supply chain shows just how unsustainable the current landscape is – for native flora and fauna and for the beef industry, not to mention the companies it supplies with meat. It also reveals the good news: when retailers and food products companies collaborate with processors and government agencies, they can change the landscape of beef production.

Deforestation on the Ranch Deforestation in the Supply Chain When their herds wear out the land, many ranchers clear rainforest to make new pastures. Clearing rainforest triggers serious consequences. rancher climate change co 2 Habitat Loss Economic Risk When the “lever” company sets goals for deforestation-free beef, suppliers respond with more sustainably produced meat. retail food products company CONSUMERPRODUCTS processor cattle ranch/deforestation government cattle ranch/deforestation Ranchers don’t want to harm the environment; they’re just trying to feed their families by plying their trade. But profit margins are low, and when hungry cattle deplete existing pasture land, to date the cheapest solution has been to clear more forest. Ranchers need financial incentives so they can operate more sustainably—increasing their yield while keeping forests intact. Rancher retail Consumers don't want to do business with a company they believe is destroying the Amazon. Such a company could face dwindling market share and even a PR nightmare. Retailers committed to sourcing sustainably produced beef have the strength and the motivation to help create a more effective system for ensuring progress toward their goals – and providing proof. government South American governments at every level are involved in deforestation policies, but government regulation by itself is not sufficient. When governments and companies align their deforestation policies and business commitments, they can put much more pressure on suppliers and ranchers who continue to violate those policies. Cattle quickly deplete the land they graze, and ranchers are faced with a choice that boils down to this: move on – likely clearing forest to create new pastureland – or stay put and try to find ways to improve the health of their land and their business. Ranchers aren't rewarded for choosing the second option, which requires money, tools and know-how they often don't have. Environmental Defense Fund and companies up the supply chain can make sustainable ranching a more viable and desirable option. cattle ranch/deforestation Cattle quickly deplete the land they graze, and ranchers are faced with a choice that boils down to this: move on – likely clearing forest to create new pastureland – or stay put and try to find ways to improve the health of their land and their business. Ranchers aren't rewarded for choosing the second option, which requires money, tools and know-how they often don't have. Environmental Defense Fund and companies up the supply chain can make sustainable ranching a more viable and desirable option. cattle ranch/deforestation Processors are in the best position to make sure ranchers are producing more sustainable beef, but they need a new tracking system. The largest of these companies have been leading the way toward better ranching practices by using their own systems to track and process deforestation-free beef. They can't consistently cover the entire beef market by themselves, though, and smaller processing companies lack the means (and sometimes the incentive) to enforce deforestation policies. processor If retailers put a halt on stocking unsustainable beef products, food products companies will take the cue. They'll tell their own suppliers to process beef that wasn't raised on newly cleared land – and reward the companies already leading in that endeavor. The process can start with food products companies, too, when they commit to protecting sensitive rainforest. CONSUMERPRODUCTS foodproducts Company economic risk Right now, ranchers can actually benefit by evading deforestation regulations. But they pass along major risks to the companies that buy and sell their meat, including dissatisfied customers and potential PR crises. habitat loss At least 10% of the entire world's plant and animal species live in the Amazon. So do many thousands of indigenous people. When their homes are carved up into small patches, animals, plants and people alike find it difficult to survive. climate change Tropical forests capture and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air. When forests are cleared – and especially when they're burned – CO 2 is released, and a globally important carbon reservoir is taken out of action. At the regional level, heavy deforestation can actually alter rainfall patterns – a potentially harmful effect for both ranches and remaining forest. co 2

Think Bigger: Zero Deforestation Zones

It’s time to switch the focus – from deforestation-free ranches to deforestation-free states or regions. In this new system, entire political jurisdictions tighten their laws, toughen enforcement and offer worthwhile economic incentives for sustainable ranching in order to eliminate deforestation within their borders. Zero deforestation zones mean entire landscapes are protected because there are no more cracks to fall through. This system takes cooperation between government and private sectors: Companies up the supply chain commit to sourcing from jurisdictions that have effectively halted deforestation, opening up new markets for ranchers and processors both. Jurisdictions earn access to international programs and funds that connect ranchers with resources for improving their land’s health and keeping their herds productive – so they have no need to clear new pastures.

Lever or Link, You’re Part of the Solution

Tropical deforestation has been on everyone’s radar for decades, but now, if all the links in the supply chain work toward the same goal – zero deforestation zones – this complex problem can finally be solved. It’s time for retailers and food products companies to use their leverage to help beef processors, ranchers and government agencies preserve the very land they depend on – and improve the health of their businesses, local economies and an entire ecosystem.