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Report: “Game-Changing” Anti-Deforestation Agreements in Brazil are Actually Working

posted: 05/12/15
by: Danny Clemens
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Rainforests around the world are in crisis: experts estimate that upwards of 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed across the world each day, taking with them over 130 species of plants, animals and insects.

Much of that deforestation has been attributed to the beef and cattle trade. Brazil's $4.4 billion beef industry is responsible for two-thirds of all pastures that are erected on deforested land.

In 2009, Brazil's three largest producers of leather and beef bowed to heavy pressure from Greenpeace and the local government, voluntarily agreeing to purchase cattle only from ranchers who ceased destroying rainforest and agreed to have their properties monitored for compliance.

Surprisingly, the agreement is working.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison follows up with those companies, finding that the slaughterhouses are proactively blocking purchases from ranches that are complicit in deforestation. By 2013, almost all of the slaughterhouses' suppliers of cattle were registered with the local government and compliant with anti-deforestation policies. Less than 4% of the suppliers had recent deforestation violations, compared to 40% before the regulations went into effect.

"Public enforcement of environmental laws is a formidable task in the Brazilian Amazon, which covers an area six times the size of Texas," says study lead author Holly Gibbs, environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "But these market-based interventions are leading to rapid changes in the beef industry within a period of months, even in very remote areas."

However, Gibbs says that there is still work to be done. Some ranchers raise cattle on noncompliant ranches, and then transfer cattle to compliant facilities before they are sold in order to avoid detection. Furthermore, not all slaughterhouses are are required to participate in the program; these facilities have little (if any) government oversight.

Nonetheless, Gibbs calls the zero-deforestation agreements a "game changer". Her research is published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Letters.

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