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Beef Producers in Amazon Declare Moratorium

Major beef and leather producers in Brazil have agreed not to use cattle raised in recently deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest.

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, and Brazil loses an estimated three million hectares of forested land each year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. That's more than any other country in the world. And cattle ranching and deforestation are intimately connected.

The governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso has called on meat producers not to buy cattle raised on recently deforested lands in the Amazonian state. Now, two major beef producers in Brazil, Bertin and Marfrig, have announced they are joining the initiative. Shoe makers Nike and Timberland signed on earlier this month.

Environmental group's report

The moves follow a report issued this June by the environmental group Greenpeace that traced leather products from major global brands back to the meat processors and ranchers in deforested areas of the Amazon.

Greenpeace spokesman Daniel Kessler says the announcements will have a significant impact on protecting the rainforest.

"Mato Grosso, just to give some perspective, is by far the largest producer of leather in all of Brazil," Kessler says, "and the fact that they're having this moratorium is extremely important. Using Bertin as an example, they're the second-largest beef exporter in Brazil. And they're supporting this moratorium. And they're doing the right thing."

The third major meat packer in the Amazon region, JBS, has not announced its plans and did not return calls and emails for comment.

The Brazilian government and independent third-party observers will enforce the moratorium using satellite photographs, aerial fly-overs, and site visits. The meat processors have agreed not to buy cattle from those responsible for newly deforested lands.

Soybean moratorium

Brazil is already using this system to monitor soybean production. The country is a major soy producer, and since 2006 a coalition representing soybean growers, processors, and civil society groups has been cooperating on a moratorium on soy from recently deforested Amazon land.

Cassio Franco Moreira with the environmental group World Wildlife Fund is a member of that coalition. He says soy often follows cattle on recently deforested land.

"You have a huge area of forest and then you deforest it and then you put cattle [on it] because you can take your product walking to the slaughterhouse," he says. "And [for] soy you need roads, you need this kind of thing."

So, he says, limiting cattle ranching in the Amazon is an important step. Greenpeace's Daniel Kessler says he's optimistic about the cattle moratorium.

"The government in Brazil did a great job with soy, so we have full faith that they'll do a great job with leather," he says.

The soy moratorium has just been extended for another year while all the groups involved work out a more permanent method to certify that soybeans do not come from deforested land.