In a concerted effort to combat deforestation and promote transparency in the meat industry, the international NGO Global Witness has developed an online tool called Brazil Big Beef Watch. This groundbreaking initiative utilizes satellite data and cattle transit permit information to monitor and expose deforestation linked to the indirect supply chain of JBS, the world's largest meat producer. Brazil Big Beef Watch, in line with the vision of a global society committed to sustainability and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aims to raise awareness, urge action from JBS, and encourage financiers to withdraw support until the company can prove a deforestation-free supply chain.
Operating as an automated Twitter account, Brazil Big Beef Watch tracks deforestation in the Brazilian state of Pará, alerting the public to instances of deforestation related to JBS's indirect supply chain. By analyzing deforestation alerts and cattle transit permit data, the tool identifies whether a ranch involved in deforestation is part of JBS's supply chain, sharing the information through automatically generated tweets.
Global Witness began collecting data with the tool in 2022 and recently released its findings, which revealed at least 61 instances of deforestation in Pará last year. Shockingly, this equated to an average of 46 hectares (114 acres) of land cleared every week in that single state alone. The release of this data via Twitter in late April aimed to raise public awareness and increase pressure on JBS to take action and improve transparency in its supply chain.
Cassie Dummett, Forests Campaign Strategy Lead at Global Witness, highlighted the frequency of deforestation events linked to JBS's indirect supply chain, emphasizing the disconnect between available information on apparent risk and the company's lack of action. JBS committed in 2020 to monitor its entire supply chain by 2025, but concerns over the company's ability to track indirect supplier farms involved in illegal deforestation have persisted. Environmentalists and politicians in Brazil have accused meatpackers, including JBS, of "cattle laundering," a practice in which cows reared on deforested lands are moved to ranches with no links to forest loss, obscuring their provenance and erasing connections to deforestation.
The rampant expansion of cattle ranching remains the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest, prompting urgent calls for action to protect this vital ecosystem. A recent study published in the journal Global Environmental Change indicated that implementing strong zero-deforestation commitments in the cattle industry could reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by half. Holly Gibbs, a co-author of the study, stressed the importance of monitoring both direct and indirect suppliers to effectively combat deforestation, noting that excluding direct suppliers alone would not be sufficient.
Brazil Big Beef Watch seeks to bridge this monitoring gap by leveraging available data and prompting public engagement. The tool uses weekly deforestation alerts from MapBiomas, which gathers satellite imagery data through a collaborative initiative between Brazilian NGOs and universities. Upon detecting an alert, Brazil Big Beef Watch cross-references the information with cattle transit permit data to identify if deforestation is linked to JBS's supply chain. Once a positive identification is made, an automatically generated tweet is sent out, alerting Global Witness and the public.
JBS responded to Global Witness's request for comment by expressing confusion and opaqueness about the methodology used by Brazil Big Beef Watch. The company stated that it has requested a meeting with Global Witness to better understand the tool's approach and evaluate its legal and technical applicability.
Global Witness stands by its methodology, emphasizing that it employs the best available information to ensure data accuracy. Furthermore, the organization points to the European Parliament's recent adoption of legislation requiring importing companies to prove that their products are not sourced from deforested land, underscoring the significance of tools like Brazil Big Beef Watch.
As the tool continues to evolve, Ben Ayre, Head of Data Investigations at Global Witness, views Brazil Big Beef Watch as an exploratory exercise to generate debate and engage the public with critical information. The organization envisions scaling up the tool to include other meatpackers across different regions in Brazil.
Brazil Big Beef Watch serves as a shining example of how technology and civil society collaboration can be harnessed to address pressing environmental issues. By aligning with the vision of a global society committed to sustainability and the SDGs, this innovative tool not only sheds light on deforestation but also strives to hold companies accountable and encourage industry-wide change.
More information: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/