EU consumption of beef and deforestation

26 mayo 2018

Beef factsheet

Cattle and deforestation

Beef production is the biggest agricultural driver of global forest loss. Forests in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, all members of the Mercosur trade bloc, are being destroyed on an epic scale to make way for cattle. 

According to one major study, 71 per cent of deforestation in South America was linked to cattle, compared with 14 per cent to planting crops 1990-2005.

In seven countries with high deforestation, a 2015 study found that in 2011, forest conversion to cattle pasture was responsible for nearly 60 per cent of forest loss linked to agriculture in terms of land area (mostly in Brazil). From 2000-2011, the forest lost to ranching in these countries was double that of the combined deforestation associated with soy, palm oil and timber. 

Social concerns

There are also some long running concerns about exploitative conditions for workers in the beef supply chain in Brazil. 

For example, the cattle ranching sector was found to be responsible for nearly 60 per cent of all slave labour cases recorded in Brazil over 2003 - 2010.

Furthermore, beef production has been a driver of social conflict. In Brazil, disputes between ranchers and indigenous communities often focus on the demarcation of indigenous lands which in theory are protected by law.

The beef industry and deforestation

Some big consumer brands and retailers - including McDonald’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Carrefour, Walmart and Timberland - have made well publicised commitments to tackle deforestation in their beef and leather supply chains. But in general, companies in the beef industry are behind those in other forest-risk sectors in tackling forest destruction. 

In 2017, the Forest 500 it found that only 17 per cent of cattle companies reviewed had forest protection policies, compared with more than 50 per cent of companies in palm oil and timber, and in some cases, cattle firms had abandoned earlier commitments.

EU beef market and the EU/Mercosur free trade agreement negotiations

With three quarters of its beef imports coming from countries in Mercosur, the European Union (EU) has a special responsibility to ensure its policies have a positive impact on forests and forest communities in South America, which must be reflected in negotiations with Mercosur about a new trade deal. 

This is the fourth in a series of Fern briefings on the commodities that drive deforestation. 

This is the fourth in a series of background notes on agricultural commodities. Briefing notes in this series:

    Palm oil briefing paper
    Rubber factsheet
    Soy factsheet
    Cocoa factsheet

    References for the findings in this briefing note:

    2. US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service data for 2017. Source:
    4. Agricultural Commodity Supply chains: Trade Consumption and Deforestation, Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016:
    5. Data drawn from: and
    7. Meat and Seafood Production, Hannah Ritchie and Max Rosser, 2017:
    8. 8- Calculated from United States Department of Agriculture / Foreign Agricultural Service data for 2017 and 2007, available at and
    9. Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016, op cit.
    10. Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016, op cit.
    11. Sabine Henders et al, Trading Forests: Land-Use Change and Carbon Emissions Embodied in Production and Exports of Forest-Risk commodities, Sabine Henders, U Martin Persson and Thomas Kastner, December 2015, Environmental Research Letters:
    12. Illegal Deforestation Monitor, Beef Profile, 2016:
    13. WWF Living Forests Report, Chapter 5, Saving Forests at Risk, 2015:
    14. Land-use and  Agriculture in the Amazon, Global Forest Atlas, Yale  School of Forestry and Environmental Studies:
    15. Figures in this section are calculated from Brazil National Institute of Space Research (INPE) data, mostly available:
    17. Peter Veit and Ryan Sarsfield, Land Rights, Beef Commodity Chains, and Deforestation Dynamics in the Paraguayan Chaco, USAID, 2017:
    19. WWF Living Forests Report, Chapter 5, Saving Forests at Risk, 2015:
    20. V. De Sy et al, Land use patterns and related carbon losses following deforestation in South America, 2015, Environ. Res. Lett 124004:
    21. Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016, op. cit.
    26. Sam Lawson, Consumer Goods and Deforestation, Forest Trends, 2014:
    34. Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016, op cit.
    36. Forest 500, 2017 Annual Report:
    37. Brack et al, Chatham House, 2016, op cit.
    38. Forest conservation effects of Brazil's zero deforestation cattle agreements undermined by leakage, Jennifer Alix-Garcia, Holly K. Gibbs, Global Environmental Change 47,2017:
    39. Beef and Veal Market Situation, March 2018:
    41. Beef and Veal Market Situation, March 2018:

    Categorías: Briefing Notes, Meat consumption, Brazil

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