2020 Amazon Fires Linked to Deforestation by JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva; Likely Exacerbated COVID-19 Outbreaks

New analysis demonstrates supply chain overlap and shows fires were highly concentrated in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection

WASHINGTON, DC – A new analysis by environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth, working in collaboration with MapHubs, links meat companies JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva to the fires raging in the Amazon and highlights how these fires are likely exacerbating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on local communities. 

The report, Fanning the Flames: The Corporations Destroying the Amazon and Worsening the COVID-19 Pandemic, maps the fires intentionally set in Brazil this year and overlays local company supply chain information to understand which companies are driving the destructionUnlike the wildfires in the U.S., fires in the Amazon are intentionally set to clear land for use as cattle pasture or for crop production. Mighty Earth finds that just three companies – JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva – are responsible for 72 percent of beef exported in the areas with the highest concentration of fires. 

The findings echo Mighty Earth’s 2019 report, The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon. “It’s not a mystery. The same companies named in last year’s report – especially JBS and Marfrig – are again linked to the fires raging in 2020,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner. After the worldwide outrage last summer about the destruction of the Amazon, it’s unthinkable that these companies have continued to go about business as usual without repercussions.

The first half of September saw more than double the number of fires in the Amazon compared to the same time last year, according to data from Brazil’s national space research agency INPE. The report shows this year’s fires highly concentrated in three distinct “hotspots,” all areas of agricultural expansion, primarily for cattle production. Following last year’s fires, scientists warned that the Amazon was nearing a ‘tipping point’ of ecological collapse. 

Mighty Earth’s analysis also highlights how these fires are likely exacerbating the impacts of COVID-19. The three hotspot municipalities reported a combined 47,988 cases as of August 16, 2020, and an infection rate more than twice the national average by total population. Local communities have blamed the agricultural industry for worsening the impacts of the pandemic, both through crowding workers into unsanitary processing plants and burning land in ways that cause respiratory ailments. Even in a normal year, smoke from forest fires can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems, and Brazil saw a significant rise in hospitalizations and loss of life during the peak fire season in 2019. This year’s fires are likely to compound existing health risks for communities already suffering from the pandemic. 

In response to the findings, Mighty Earth called on global supermarkets and consumer goods stores to stop buying from suppliers that are destroying the rainforest. Many of the world’s largest food companies have adopted no-deforestation sourcing standards in response to public backlash, but are largely failing to deliver on these promises.

People are demanding sustainable options, and simply do not want their local grocery store stocking its shelves with products that drove rainforest destruction,” said von ReusnerLast year’s global outcry didn’t stop the same bad actors from burning again this year. Even a global respiratory pandemic hasn’t stopped them from starting fires that choke the skies with haze. The only way these companies will change their practices is if the grocery stores that people trust – Metro, Costco, Casino, and Ahold Delhaize stores like Giant, Food Lion, and Stop & Shop – stop buying from the arsonists of the Amazon.” 

While many major global brands have adopted no-deforestation sourcing policies for soy, they have not applied these same standards to beef despite beef’s significantly larger deforestation footprint. JBS, the biggest meat producer in the world, has publicly committed to eradicate deforestation in its direct supply chain yet is continually linked to deforestation throughout its indirect supply chain.  

Until we have full transparency and traceability in supply chains and clear cutoff dates are established for deforestation, the unnecessary destruction of the alreadyvulnerable Amazon will continue,” said von Reusner.