UK supermarkets could still be buying meat linked to deforestation in Brazil, report suggests

At least 27,000 hectares of Cerrado have allegedly been destroyed by suppliers to major soya traders that supply UK meat industry

Supermarkets and retailers have been asked to end relationships with soya traders who allegedly continue to buy soya from suppliers contributing to deforestation in Brazil.

It comes as an investigation by campaign group Mighty Earth alleges that suppliers selling to leading soya traders have deforested at least 27,000 hectares (67,000 acres) across 10 farms in the Cerrado region of Brazil since August 2020.

Some of the traders supply the UK, so soya harvested from this land could end up in meat supply chains for major supermarkets and retailers via animal feed given to farm animals.


This is despite a previous agreement in principle from retailers to end buying meat connected to the destruction of natural ecosystems – such as the Brazilian Cerrado – that occurred after August 2020.

With large swathes of land under threat from the production of soya, supermarket chains have been asked to take action and end longstanding relationships with soya traders who buy from firms responsible for the destruction.

The Brazilian Cerrado is known for its plant and animal biodiversity and has been described as the “biologically richest savannah in the world” by the World Wide Fund for Nature. It is home to approximately 12,000 plant species, as well as 850 species of bird – 30 of which are endemic to the region.

Campaigners say the majority (77%) of the world’s soya beans are used for feeding animals, including pigs and poultry.

A flock of rheas in a soya field in the Cerrado plains near Campo Verde, Mato Grosso state
A flock of rheas in a soya field in the Cerrado plains, Mato Grosso state. The Cerrado is home to about 10,000 plant species and many endemic birds. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The report said: “Supermarkets should … set up effective, fully transparent and cross-ecosystem soy monitoring and traceability systems for the Cerrado, Brazil and beyond.

“Although this analysis focuses primarily on the Cerrado savannah, a series of other reports show that the supermarkets also face significant risk of links to destruction of native habitat in other ecosystems that supply animal feed, including Brazil’s Pantanal, the Bolivian Amazon basin and Chiquitania, Paraguay’s Atlantic forest, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay.”

Brazil’s Cerrado biome is a vast, tropical savannah stretching diagonally up through the middle of Brazil that covers 2 million sq km, around 22% of the country, as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay.

According to Brazil’s environment ministry, the biodiversity-rich Cerrado has 11,620 plant, 1,200 fish and 837 fish species and its 200 mammals include jaguars, anteaters, rhea birds and tapirs. But over half of its landscape – grassland scrub and dry forest – has been converted to agriculture as it produces soya for China, Europe and other markets. The region lost 105,000 square kilometres of native cover from 2008-2018, according to Reuters – 50% more than the Amazon, which has more legal protection. 

According to an international study published by Science magazine, around 27,000 properties in the Cerrado had carried out deforestation “in all likelihood illegally”, and 48% of properties were non-compliant with the requirements of Brazil’s forest code, such as protecting 20% of their land (compared to 80% in the Amazon). The study found around 20% of soya exports and 17% of beef exports from Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado biomes to the European Union “may be contaminated with illegal deforestation”.

Another study by researchers from Dartmouth College in the US, published in Nature Sustainability magazine, found land clearing had changed the weather in the Cerrado. Temperatures were hotter during the corn growing season and evapotranspiration fell. 

In a 2019 article published in Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation, scientists warned that “climate changes are likely to cause local extinctions of several mammalian species throughout the Cerrado biome”.

Dom Phillips
This explainer was written in 2020

Campaigners from Mighty Earth have also written to supermarkets calling on them to require meat suppliers to “work towards a goal of selling at least 20% plant-based or alternative proteins” by 2030.

The scale of destruction in the Cerrado is vast, the report says, with the most severe case of known deforestation occurring within Condomínio Agrícola Estrondo in Bahía. Research appears to show that more than 15,000 hectares were cleared after the 2020 cut-off date.

One soya company allegedly cleared more than 1,180 hectares of vegetation in just one month.

The report said: “After years of failed efforts to nudge the soy companies to sever ties with suppliers engaged in deforestation, the time has come for major supermarkets to deliver on their promises, and deploy meaningful commercial consequences for non-compliance with their zero-deforestation pledges.”

The new findings from this investigation come seven months after Cargill was found to be buying soya and corn from a farm linked to deforestation in the Amazon, despite having pledged to clean up its global supply chains.

The Retail Soy Group (RSG) told the Guardian that the report raises “serious concerns” and that its members, which include UK supermarkets, “will be engaging the traders” to understand what actions will be taken.

“Mighty Earth’s report provides an additional reference point for understanding the progress companies are taking to transform their supply chains as part of new monitoring, reporting and verification systems that are being established through delivery partnerships in which companies made deforestation and land conversion commitments, like the UK Soy Manifesto and CGF Forest Positive Coalition,” said a RSG spokesperson.

Sign up for the Animals farmed monthly update to get a roundup of the best farming and food stories across the world and keep up with our investigations. You can send us your stories and thoughts at


Tom Ambrose

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Walmart selling beef from firm linked to Amazon deforestation
Exclusive: US chains Walmart, Costco and Kroger selling Brazilian beef produced by JBS linked to destruction of Brazilian rainforest

Andrew Wasley and Alexandra Heal

13, Feb, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: new evidence links Brazil meat giant JBS to Amazon deforestation
Photographs by employee appear to show company trucks being used to transport cattle from allegedly prohibited cattle farm

André Campos, Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal, Dom Phillips and Piero Locatelli

27, Jul, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Revealed: UK supermarket and fast-food chicken linked to deforestation in Brazil
Tesco, Lidl, Asda, McDonald’s and Nando’s all source chicken fed on soya from Cerrado tropical biome region

Jonathan Watts, Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal, Alice Ross, Lucy Jordan, Emma Howard and Harry Holmes

25, Nov, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
Revealed: UK banks and investors' $2bn backing of meat firms linked to Amazon deforestation
Investigation uncovers ties between financial institutions and three Brazilian firms connected to environmental destruction

Emma Howard, Andrew Wasley and Alexandra Heal

04, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Meat giants selling to UK linked to Brazil farms in deforested Amazon reserve
Greenpeace report shows cattle indirectly sold to JBS, Marfrig and Minerva came from protected Serro Ricardo Franco park

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

05, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Brazil meat giant JBS pledges to axe suppliers linked to deforestation
Campaigners welcome turnaround after pressure from investors but say 2025 deadline too long to resolve problems

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

23, Sep, 2020 @5:07 PM

Article image
Investors drop Brazil meat giant JBS
Top investment house delists world biggest meat producer over lack of commitment to sustainability issues

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

28, Jul, 2020 @6:30 AM

Article image
HSBC sounds alarm over investment in meat giant due to deforestation inaction
Bank argues JBS has ‘no action plan’ to tackle link between indirect suppliers and Amazon destruction following Guardian investigation

Andrew Wasley and Alexandra Heal

12, Aug, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Brazil’s Amazon beef plan will ‘legalise deforestation’ say critics
The beef industry hopes a planned deforestation-free farming zone will tempt buyers back but many fear it will drive up illegal tree felling

Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance

17, Nov, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Don't invest in Brazilian meat, warn deforestation campaigners
Open letter signed by Global Witness and Greenpeace Brasil cautions potential investors on risk of deforestation in supply chains of JBS and Marfrig

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

11, Dec, 2019 @2:02 PM