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Danish steak from a rainforest in flames

Danish Crown and Danish supermarkets sell Brazilianbeefthat may come from illegally cleared rainforest, says news media report

The beef in the Danes’ minced beef and spaghetti bolognese has already been designated as one of the big climate culprits. When the meat comes from Brazil, it does not get any better. On the contrary.

In addition to the long transport, the mighty Brazilian cattle industry is a major cause of the many thousands of fires that ravaged the Amazon especially in July and August last year. Although it is illegal, cattle farmers clear rainforest so that their cattle can graze there. A rainforest, which due to its ability to bind carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is also referred to as the world’s lungs.

According to environmental organizations, the many fires have a direct connection to the election of JairBolsonaro as Brazil’s president. He has systematically weakened the authorities and control bodies to protect the rainforest and urged agriculture and other Brazilian industries to exploit the rainforest for economic growth.

The majority of the summer fires in the Amazon were according to the US space agency NASA man-made. A new survey of satellite photos of the fires shows that in areas with cattle breeding, fires were three times more likely to occur than in other areas of the rainforest. 

And now, in collaboration with the Brazilian investigative media ‘Reporter Brasil’ and Danish P1 Orientation, Danwatch can document that Danish companies also play a role in the burning of the Amazon.

They have bought beef from Brazilian suppliers linked to deforestation.

Either because the Brazilian dealers have bought cattle from farmers who have been fined for operating on land that is defined as illegally cleared rainforest. Or, by the fact that the Brazilian suppliers do not have tracking systems that allow them to check whether they are selling meat derived from illegally cleared rainforest.

Lack of Corporate Responsibility

Danish Crown, the Danish food giant, which, besides being one of Europe’s largest pork producers, also runs one of the world’s largest meat trading companies, has bought beef and offal from a slaughterhouse in the state of Rondonia, in northern Brazil.

Rondonia, which originally had over 200,000 km2 of rainforest, almost five times the size of Denmark, is today one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon.

The slaughterhouse, FrigoríficoIrmãosGonçalves, has not signed the agreements and initiatives to stop deforestation (the so-called TAC da Carne). They also give no guarantees to their customers about the origin of the meat.    

Documentation from Brazilian environmental authorities, which Danwatch has seen, shows that a cattle farmer supplying cattle to the slaughterhouse in 2014 was fined for illegal deforestation. Since then, parts of the cattle farmer’s land have been under embargo, which means that cattle must not be raised in the area for vegetation to be restored.

Under Brazilian law, it is illegal to buy cattle raised in embargoed areas. For that reason, many meat companies promise not to buy cattle from cattle farms that contain lands under embargo.

But this is exactly what the slaughterhouse, with which Danish Crown has traded, has done.

In 2017, Danish Crown, through their trading company ESS-FOOD, purchased beef offal worth nearly 100,000 US dollars from the slaughterhouse. This is shown in data from TRASE, a research institute that maps product chains from Brazil’s cattle and soy industry, among others.

This is despite of the fact that on the ESS-FOOD website you can read about Danish Crown’s CSR policy of contributing to sustainable agriculture, and how the historical links to the Danish cooperative movement make it natural for Danish Crown to take social responsibility.

But ESS-FOOD, which buys meat from 48 different countries and annually sells a staggering 400,000 tonnes of meat worldwide, only demands sustainability when customers ask for it, says Danish Crown’s Press Manager Jens Hansen.

“ESS-FOOD does not decide on the sustainability of the product unless the customer wants it. It is therefore up to the buyer what certifications or similar they require. We can see that European customers typically have different standards and more requirements for certifications than, for example, African and Asian customers, who are often the ones who buy animal by-products, ”says Jens Hansen.

Therefore, Danish Crown also cannot guarantee that they do not trade beef and offal derived from cattle grazing on illegally cleared rainforest.

“We can guarantee that we will not sell such products in Denmark and Europe, but not when ESS-FOOD sells products to customers in the rest of the world,” says the press manager.

The slaughterhouse in Rondonia, Brazil, did not respond to Danwatch’s inquiries.

Large purchases without control

CSR experts are disappointed by Danish Crown’s practice.

“Someone here has formulated some beautiful principles, but it is not really CSR if it does not apply to the entire organization,” says Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, researcher in business ethics at RUC.

ESS-FOOD, which is headquartered in Axelborg, opposite Tivoli in Copenhagen, had sales of DKK 4.7 billion last year. Therefore, they also have the opportunity to influence meat production, says Jacob Dahl Rendtorff.

“A large company like Danish Crown, which thus has some purchasing power, should go ahead and have some standards and requirements for those from which they buy. Just because you are a pure trading company, you cannot just say that you sell anything as long as the buyer wants it, ”says Jacob Dahl Rendtorff.   

CSR expert at Copenhagen Business School Andreas Rasche says that pure trading companies such as ESS-FOOD, so-called “Business to Business”, often meet far fewer sustainability requirements than the companies selling to individual consumers.

But that doesn’t relieve them of responsibility, he says.

“When Danish Crown is the sole owner of this company, it is disappointing that they do not follow their own CSR policy. Of course, ESS-FOOD can send a strong signal of social responsibility by making certifications compulsory for trade to be possible, ”says Andreas Rasche.

On the whole, Danish Crown’s purchases from Brazil show that they often buy beef without guarantees that the meat does not contribute to deforestation.

In 2018, Danish Crown through ESS-FOOD purchased beef and offal from Brazil for 1.2 million US dollars from exporters who do not operate their own slaughterhouses but who buy meat from a number of smaller companies in Brazil, data from the research institute Trase shows.

This makes it almost impossible for buyers like Danish Crown to trace the cattle origin.

“When you look at their shopping patterns, it seems that they don’t ask  a lot of questions about where the products come from,” says Erasmus ZuErmgassen, a researcher at Trase and Belgian Universitécatholique de Louvain.

Brazilian beef at Kvickly, SuperBrugsen and JensensBøfhus

It is not only consumers in Asia and Africa who encounter problematic Brazilian beef.

So do the Danish consumers. A survey from Danwatch shows that Kvickly and Superbrugsen, as well as the Danish restaurant chain JensensBøfhus, have had Brazilian beef for sale in recent years.

Far from all Danish supermarkets and beef restaurants carry Brazilian beef. Supermarkets like Netto, Føtex, Bilka and Lidl do not.

COOP, which owns both Kvickly and SuperBrugsen, sells the steaks to give customers something to choose from.

“We are constantly buying smaller quantities of beef from Brazil to have an exciting and up-to-date selection of high quality steaks,” Thomas Roland, COOP’s CSR chief, writes in an email to Danwatch.

Thomas Roland also says that they demand from their supplier that they do not buy meat from farmers who help clear rainforests or from areas that have been cleared of forests within the last 20 years. And that COOP is requesting documentation that this is complied with.

However, it is not possible for Brazilian suppliers to provide guarantees that they will not sell beef from animals originating from illegally cleared rainforest.

Documents from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, which Danwatch has gained access to, show that there are mainly two Danish importers who buy beef from Brazil.

These importers, Dencon Foods and KS Food Consult, have both purchased beef from Brazilian suppliers Marfrig and Minerva.

These are companies that have been at the center of international revelations about the role of the Brazilian meat industry in deforestation of the Amazon. You can read about the revelations at Reporter Brasil and the Guardian.

It is also from these companies and through these Danish importers that Kvickly, SuperBrugsen and JensensBøfhus got their beef.

Marfrighas been proven to sell beef derived from cattle grazing on illegally cleared rainforest. Marfrig’s slaughterhouses have bought cattle from farmers who, just months earlier, have been fined for cattle grazing on illegally cleared rainforest under embargo. This has happened by mistake, Marfrig has since stated.

Both Marfrig and Minerva, unlike Danish Crown’s supplier, provide guarantees that they will not buy cattle that have grazed on illegally cleared rainforest. They do this by cross-checking their supplier lists with the environmental authorities’ issuance of fines for illegally cleared rainforest, and through satellite monitoring.

But even though both companies claim they are doing their utmost to avoid deforestation, they also acknowledge that they only control the cattle farms that are direct suppliers to their slaughterhouses.

The problem, however, is that the cattle have often changed owner several times during the breeding period before eventually being sold for slaughter. That is, the cattle may have grazed on illegally cleared rainforest at farms other than the one selling the cattle for slaughter. This is also used for so-called “cattle laundering”, which means that cattle grazing on illegally cleared rainforest change ownership before being sold to the big meat companies such as Minerva and Marfrig.

In December 2019, Minerva’s chief of sustainability stated to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism that it is not possible for them to control indirect suppliers.

In an email to Danwatch, Minerva’s PR agency Loures writes that the slaughterhouses producing beef for Denmark do not buy cattle from farmers in the Amazon. They also confirm that they do not control indirect suppliers.

A study indicates that at least half of the beef sold by major meat companies such as Marfrig and Minerva comes from cattle that have changed owners during the breeding season.

A comprehensive check on the origin of the meat, in English called “farm-to-fork” traceability, is widespread in many countries, including the EU and Uruguay, which is another major South American meat supplier, says Erasmus ZuErmgassen from Trase to Danwatch.

But not in Brazil. So even if the Danish supermarkets and restaurants get meat from suppliers who, to a greater extent than Danish Crown’s supplier, make efforts to avoid contributing to deforestation, as a buyer of Brazilian beef can not be sure.

“The companies’ own guidelines and commitments are undermined by serious weaknesses, in particular because there is no control of indirect suppliers. The Brazilian cattle industry is lagging behind in introducing the kind of traceability demanded by many consumers, ”says Erasmus ZuErmgassen.

At COOP, CSR chief Thomas COOP says that the lack of traceability for Brazilian beef is new knowledge for them and that it is knowledge that they want to discuss with Minerva.

– But can you guarantee that you do not sell beef that contributed to deforestation of the Amazon?

“We can guarantee that we require from all our suppliers that they themselves or the farmers from whom they buy cattle must not be involved in deforestation. We can also guarantee that Minerva has provided documentation for us to do so, ”says Thomas Roland.

JensensBøfhus says that they no longer buy Brazilian beef.

“We don’t buy Brazilian meat anymore. We have done this in the past through KS Food Consult, ”writes press officer MetteMathildeSkeel-Gjørling in an email.

She does not want to answer what the decision is due to, but states that Jensens Steak House has not had Brazilian beef on the menu for the past month.

Importers: Our suppliers do what they can

The Danish meat importers both feel that both they and their Brazilian suppliers are looking at the problem of deforestation and burning of rainforest with the utmost seriousness.

“We have asked Marfrig for an account of what is up and down in the case. The problem of the Amazon fires, allegedly due to land reclamation for cattle breeding and crop cultivation, is terribly sad, and something we and our supplier Marfrig are severely distancing from. Marfrig pursues the problem, to bring it to life. Every year, they spend enormous resources on monitoring their suppliers via satellite following a special program developed for the same, ”KS Food writes in an email.

Henrik Bekker, director of importer Dencon Foods, also takes away from illegal clearing of rainforest. 

He says he has evidence that Minerva and Marfrig, the companies from which they bought Brazilian beef, are doing what they can to avoid contributing to deforestation. And that he personally travels to Brazil on a regular basis to follow up with the suppliers.

“There will always be broken vessels, and what small local players do can be difficult to control in as large a country as Brazil. I hope those responsible will be prosecuted. But the big food companies in Brazil have no interest in imposing a bad image on themselves. Brazil is globally one of the world’s largest food exporters and millions of families have their livelihoods from working in that sector.

Therefore, everyone focuses on the fact that there is no abuse of nature and people. We also know from home that illegal slaughterhouses appear from time to time, even in Denmark, ”Henrik Bekker writes in an email.

News article originally published by Danwatch.

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