UK supermarkets and wholesalers supplying the NHS have been implicated in a new investigation which shows Brazilian meat linked to illegal deforestation ending up in UK food supply chains.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published in partnership with BusinessGreen, found that beef from farmers accused of illegal deforestation – and subsequently sanctioned with embargoes – was still making its way into global supply chains, including those serving at least two of the world's biggest meat companies, JBS and Marfrig.
JBS and Marfrig's UK customers include Sainsbury's, Asda, Lidl and other major supermarkets, as well as wholesalers, some of which supply the NHS.
The Bureau said the findings raised serious questions about the effectiveness and enforcement of the embargo system, which is intended to penalise landowners and allow illegally cleared forest areas to recover, and undermined the “deforestation-free” claims of multinational meat companies and their international customers.
In one case involving a farmer doing business with the two meat suppliers, it said multiple fires were recorded on land that had been embargoed after earlier deforestation.
There are growing international concerns over the future of the South American rainforest with data showing that fires on legally protected land in the Amazon have surged since Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019.
Satellite mapping of blazes and data on unlawful deforestation analysed by the Bureau showed the number of major fires on embargoed rural land increased from 77 in 2018, immediately before Bolsonaro took office, to 124 in 2020.
In response, Asda said it would stop stocking JBS Brazilian beef in its “newly sourced” canned goods.
The NHS said its food buying followed government standards for environmental protection, and that it has asked for sustainability strategies from all suppliers for its procurements since last year.