A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists indicates that America’s top beef buyers are increasing deforestation in South America despite promises to source “deforestation-free” beef.
The study tracked the beef industry’s progress toward “deforestation-free” beef, ranking 13 U.S. companies on the strength of their efforts over the past few years in South America.
Beef production is the number-one driver of tropical deforestation in South America and worldwide. Analysis of nations with high rates of tropical deforestation has shown that the amount of deforestation fueled by beef production is more than twice as large as the combined amount resulting from the production of soy, palm oil, and wood products—the next three largest drivers of tropical deforestation. In South America, beef production was responsible for 71 percent of total deforestation between 1990 and 2005. Cattle are raised primarily for meat and dairy products, but the industry also produces a number of other cattle products, such as fats, leather, and gelatin, which can be found in everything from lotion to shoes.
Photojournalist Orin Langelle documented a rainforest community damaged by the beef industry in his Ayoreo: People of the Chaco photo essay. In 2012, the New York Times reported that at least 1.2 million acres of the Chaco had been deforested since 2010, according to satellite analyses by Guyra, an environmental group in Asunción, the capital.