Major packer accused of buying cattle from rainforest ranchers

Jun 15, 2012

The titans are clashing in the realm of beef and environmentalism. JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company, has been called out by environmental giant Greenpeace. The battle lines in this fight lie in the Amazon rainforest, or in the accuracy of the claims, depending on who’s doing the talking.

Early June, Greenpeace announced it had discovered JBS was buying cattle from illegal Brazilian ranchers, who—among other things— contributed to the deforestation of the Amazon. Many retailers supplied by JBS have since dropped their business with the Brazilian company. JBS has fired back with legal action, claiming the accusations are false and the resulting damage to its business is unjust.

Greenpeace released a report accusing JBS of “collaborating with deforestation and of not complying with previous agreements” regarding the Amazon rainforest. The previous agreement was a 2009 accord signed by JBS and several other meat packing companies to not buy cattle from ranching operations which negatively impact the environment, lands of indigenous people, and ignore civil rights in employment. Greenpeace’s report claims JBS has violated all of these elements and more.

“In researching JBS’s business practices, Greenpeace has found, once again, numerous new cases of JBS purchasing cattle directly and indirectly from farms involved in illegal deforestation, invasion of protected areas and indigenous lands, and also of farms using slave labour. Greenpeace can show that this contaminated beef is still entering the supply chain of major companies in the EU and Brazil,” according to the official “Scorecard” report release Greenpeace issued on the matter.

After receiving word of these alleged findings, retailers including European grocery chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s, furniture giant IKEA, and others such as Asda and Sligro Food Group have said they will stop doing business with JBS.

JBS, however, calls the claims false, misleading, inaccurate and defamatory, among other things. The response from the company was swift.

“The information regarding JBS in the report is false, misleading, incorrect and induces the public to draw erroneous conclusions regarding the reality of the facts. Due to this, [JBS] will legally challenge Greenpeace and will use all available legal channels to repair the material damage caused to the image of the Company through the disclosure of this incorrect information,” read the official response JBS published on its site and distributed to its shareholders.

The official response also includes a blow-by-blow address of each of Greenpeace’s claims, countering with dates, the quoting of legal details, clarifications, and so on. For instance, JBS points out that all of the ranches it buys from brought up in Greenpeace’s report are either not blacklisted by the Brazilian Environmental Institute (i.e. they do not contribute to deforestation of the Amazon) as the report claims or that JBS’ last interaction with them was prior to their being blacklisted.

Every other claim presented in Greenpeace’s 12-page report, titled “JBS Scorecard: Failed,” is addressed by the JBS official response and offers references to back up their claims. Many of the rebuttals include claims that Greenpeace is factually inaccurate on their accusations.

The legal challenge JBS promised came in the form of a Brazilian court-ordered injunction against Greenpeace. The injunction, issued Wednesday, June 13, orders Greenpeace to remove the report from their website by the end of the day Wednesday, or face compounding fines of $24,332 a day for every day the report and reference of it remain.

As of midday, June 14, the PDF report and adjoining blog pages remained live online on Greenpeace’s website.

Since it first released the report and in the face of JBS’ quick offensive, Greenpeace has retracted some of the statements made in the report and admits it made some mistakes. Despite this, the report is still available as mentioned and the retailers who have canceled their business with JBS have not rescinded their decisions. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor