Traders, farmers fined over links to deforestation in Cerrado

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock
© istock
Five traders and multiple soy farmers have been penalized to the tune of 105.7 million reais (US $29 million) in total for soybean cultivation and purchasing that is connected to illegal deforestation, the Brazilian environmental authorities reported yesterday [Wednesday May 23].

Operation Shoyo, conducted by Brazilian government environmental agency, Ibama, in conjunction with the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (MPF) to curb illegal deforestation in the Cerrado, has resulted in 62 indictments against individuals and companies that planted, marketed or financed soybeans grown in embargoed areas in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia - a region known as Matopiba, where soybean expansion occurs rapidly at the cost of deforestation. 

Ibama told this publication the five trading firms include Cargill Inc and Bunge Ltd as well as ABC Indústria e Comércio SA, JJ Samar Agronegócios Eireli, and Uniggel Proteção de Plantas Ltda. Those companies were fined, in total 24.6 million reais. 

Fine breakdown 

ABC Indústria e Comércio S.A. – ABC INCO​, fined R$ 4.367.000,00
Bunge Alimentos S/A​, fined R$ 1.870.500,00
Cargill Agrícola S.A​, fined R$ 5.000.000,00
J J Samara Agronegócios Eireli – EP​, fined R$ 110.000,00
Uniggel Proteção de Plantas LTDA​, fined R$ 13.255.300,92

Source: Ibama

A spokesperson for Cargill told FeedNavigator it has not received a complaint from Ibama in Brazil regarding irregularities in the purchase of soybeans in the Maranhão region, and, therefore, it can’t speak to specific claims in the complaint. 

"We can address Cargill’s commitment to following the law, which is the foundation of the company’s reputation and principles globally. We do not accept non-compliance with local legislation. Once we receive the complaint from Ibama, we will assess it and take swift action if any non-compliance is identified."

Bunge ​said it had received notice from Ibama related to the alleged purchase of grain produced in off-limit agricultural areas in Brazil. "The case in question relates to a purchase of 3,741 bags, or approximately 225 tons of soy. We dispute the allegations and have filed a formal response to Ibama contesting its findings. We intend to pursue all available channels to clarify this matter, and look forward to resolving it as soon as possible," ​a Bunge representative told us.

The Brazilian officials stated in the notice​ that they wanted to hold companies and producers accountable for illegally deforesting in such protected areas.

They also said they would take legal action beyond the fines to ensure the violators repair all environmental damage. 

Illegal deforestation, in terms of the Cerrado savannah, is progressing more rapidly in Matopiba than in other regions of the biome, said Renê Luiz de Oliveira, the head of environmental enforcement at Ibama, in the official Ibama statement on the matter.  

He said that control strategies need to be improved to deter illegal links in the supply chain.

The Cerrado is one of the great natural regions of the world but has already seen half of its original area destroyed. It holds around 5% of the world’s biodiversity. It also stores the equivalent of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). [Source: Cerrado Manifesto]

Reaction to Ibama investigation outcome

Reacting to the findings of the Ibama investigation, which we now know are disputed by Bunge, CEO of not-for-profit campaign group, Mighty Earth, Glenn Hurowitz, told FeedNavigator:

“I hope that being penalized financially and by being publicized as [a company] engaging in illegal activity will be a wake-up call for senior management in the traders concerned.

“I think it this is a clear signal to consumer companies like McDonalds that when they buy from traders like Cargill or Bunge they are supporting illegal activity.

“I don’t think any meat or dairy company can now pretend that Cargill and Bunge are doing anything remotely adequate to address deforestation legal and illegal.”

Paulo Adário, senior strategist at forests of Greenpeace International, said the results of the Ibama and MPF operations demonstrate that companies like Cargill and Bunge, which have committed to eliminate deforestation of their production chains on a global scale, still have a long way to go.

“This shows that measures that go beyond verbal commitments are necessary. In the Amazon, the same companies managed to eliminate much of the deforestation of their chains due to the implementation of the Soy Moratorium, but the same does not happen in the Cerrado, where there are still no concrete commitments leading to results.”

Cerrado Manifesto

Last October saw the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and other stakeholders such as fast food giants and retailers endorse a manifesto calling for an end to the destruction of forests and native vegetation in the Cerrado.

The Cerrado Manifesto was published in September 2017​ ​by a range of Brazilian organizations including WWF-Brazil, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Earth Innovation, CI-Brazil, Greenpeace Brazil, and others.

As an organization already working with more than 32,000 soy producers as well as many well-known global food and agriculture brands, the RTRS said it be will be a key route in delivering the Manifesto commitments.

This article has been updated from the original posted earlier today to include comments from Bunge, Mighty Earth and Greenpeace.

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