Brazilian beef exports to the US grew by 50% in 2020 to 60,000 tonnes, as coronavirus restrictions reduced domestic supplies. Twelve percent of US imports of frozen beef came directly from slaughterhouses in the Amazon, which is at high risk from deforestation linked to cattle farming.
Slaughterhouses were the epicentre of many Covid-19 outbreaks in the US, accounting for 6-8% of all outbreaks across the country. At the peak of the virus's first wave, it forced 22 meat plants to close, cutting the nation’s beef-processing capacity by 10%.
Frozen beef imports from Brazil grew rapidly to make up the shortfall. With no checks on where in the country these imports come from, US consumers risk unwittingly contributing to deforestation through purchases of Brazilian beef products. In February 2021, an investigation by the Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism found Brazilian beef for sale by Walmart, Costco, and Kroger.
California has tabled a 'Deforestation-Free Procurement Act', to prevent imports associated with deforestation, and a new bill tabled in the US Congress requires US businesses to verify that commodities do not come from illegally deforested land.
Deforestation in Brazil is not inevitable; the tools to eliminate it already exist at little cost to the economy. Until such traceability systems are implemented to exclude farms with illegal deforestation from cattle supply chains, US companies importing Brazilian beef will be left exposed to renewed allegations of driving deforestation.
Card image: Cattle in the Amazon // edsongrandisoli, iStock.com
To reference this article, use the following citation: Ermgassen, E. zu. (2021). Coronavirus drives US beef imports from Amazon. Trase. https://doi.org/10.48650/TEQE-ME21