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Where’s the Deforestation-Free Beef? New Scorecard Finds No Stand-Out Leaders

A cattle ranch in the Chaco, Paraguay. | Image credit: Peer V/Wikimedia Commons

A new scorecard released today examined thirteen global fast food, retail and food manufacturing companies and found that even the top-scoring of the group are failing to protect South American tropical forests from being converted to pasture for cattle. The clearing of tropical forests contributes about 10 percent of all global warming emissions, and beef production is the largest contributor.

“The latest science shows beef production is responsible for more than twice as much deforestation as the other top drivers of tropical deforestation — soy, palm oil and wood products — combined,” said Lael Goodman, a tropical forests analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “South America is ground-zero for forest destruction from beef production. We need to protect South America’s tropical forests from conversion to pasture for beef cattle to reduce global warming pollution and protect the planet from climate change.”

UCS today released the new scorecard and accompanying report evaluating the deforestation policies and practices of 13 fast food, retail, and manufacturing companies that have a presence in the US marketplace and also source beef from South America for products including fresh and frozen beef, burgers, sandwich meat, corned beef, pizza toppings, beef jerky and pet food. “Cattle, Cleared Forests, and Climate Change,” scores the companies on a variety of criteria, such as whether they have deforestation-free purchasing commitments, adequate transparency around how they’re implementing their commitments and sufficient systems to trace and monitor their supply chains for deforestation.

While some companies have begun to take steps toward zero-deforestation beef, UCS says that none have gone far enough, and many have done little or nothing.

Out of the 13 companies, four received zero points out of a possible 100, and six more received less than 30 points. Even the three companies that scored highest — Walmart, McDonalds, and Mars— fell well short of a “strong” rating, with scores of just 52, 48 and 37, respectively. Walmart and McDonald’s are two of the biggest players in the market, but loopholes in their commitments and practices can allow for continued deforestation. UCS recommends that they, along with Mars, should publicly share more details about their implementation and verification processes (such as audits), and expand implementation beyond the Brazilian Amazon to be global in scope, covering other forested areas such as the Cerrado in Brazil and the Chaco in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.

The remaining nine companies have failed to make any public commitments with associated implementation plans to purchasing deforestation-free beef. Safeway, Nestle, Hormel Foods and Wendy’s scored between 30 and 20 points; and Jack Link’s and Subway scored 16 and 5, respectively. These companies in the middle of the pack fell short for a variety of reasons, including a lack of transparency and public communication about their actions to guarantee deforestation-free beef products.

Burger King, McDonalds’ biggest competitor, along with ConAgra Foods, Kroger and Pizza Hut received zero scores.

“Burger King makes no commitment to ensure its beef meets any kind of environmental standards,” said Goodman. “Nor does it even acknowledge its beef purchasing practices may pose a risk to tropical forests. Its only commitment is membership in two different beef sustainability roundtables. The fast food company needs to take individual responsibility for its supply chain and put in place a time-bound plan to ensure that its operations are not contributing to tropical deforestation.”

In conjunction with the beef scorecard release, UCS is launching a campaign calling on companies to buy only zero-deforestation beef. This strategy — which combines ecological science, business economics and consumer pressure — has proven to be a winning mix. A similar effort involving UCS advocacy and demands from millions of consumers resulted in 26 corporations committing to buying deforestation-free palm oil.

Consumer pressure is needed to protect tropical forests from deforestation due to irresponsible beef production,” said Asha Sharma, a UCS researcher and lead author of the report. “Our goal is to make sustainable beef production the industry norm, which is why we are urging the public to demand these companies take deforestation-risk beef off their ingredient lists. This means global brands should work with their supplying meatpackers to create a new industry standard of deforestation-free beef.”

Consumers can also take further action against deforestation by divesting from funds linked to deforestation, off-setting their impacts by donating to projects that are reducing deforestation, and supporting reforestation efforts through advocacy and their purchases.


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