As the likes of Walmart and McDonald’s close in on their 2020 deforestation pledges, green groups hope they can use their collective power to put pressure on rogue ranchers

Last year, after nearly a decade of declining deforestation in Brazil, progress went into reverse and loss of forest increased by 29%. Much of the blame was placed squarely at the feet of the meat industry, amid allegations that cattle linked to deforested land are making it back into the supply chain as loopholes begin to appear in the increasingly fragile agreements that govern the industry.

Rich biodiversity

Brazil is the most biodiverse country on earth, but this rich flora and fauna must share the forests and savannah with an estimated 226 million head of cattle. It’s a vast bovine herd that was responsible for an estimated 71% of total deforestation in South America between 1990 and 2005.

In fact, beef causes twice as much deforestation as palm oil, soy and wood products put together says Sharon Smith, tropical forest and climate initiative campaign manager at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

Clearing forests has multiple effects. As well as destroying habitats, it damages water courses and soil fertility, and there’s a double carbon whammy: as well as destroying a carbon sink, burning the forest releases huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

In the early 2000s, as international scrutiny increased, things began to...

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