The Amazon rainforest has been facing severe deforestation problems for several decades – it has lost about a fifth of its forest in the past three. While there are many causes, one of the main causes is cattle ranching, particularly in Brazil. Trees are cut and the land is converted into a pasture for cattle grazing. According to one report, an estimated 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon basin can be attributed to cattle ranching. Using these numbers, cattle ranching in the Amazon has resulted in the loss of an area larger than the state of Washington.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef. Between 1996 and 2004, the total export value of beef increased tenfold from $1.9 million to $1.9 billion, making Brazil the world’s largest beef exporter. It has the largest commercial cattle herd of approximately 180 – 190 million head. The government of Brazil offers loans of billions of dollars to support the expansion of its beef industry. Approximately 200 million pounds of beef is imported by the United States from Central America every year. While the chief importers of Brazilian beef were previously Europe and North America, nowadays Asian countries such as China and Russia consume more Brazilian beef than the European market. So, the demand is increasing day by day.  

With the increasing population and increased per capita meat consumption, the rate of deforestation is increasing every day as well. Beef is the most carbon-intensive form of meat production on the planet. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization finds that beef production gives rise to more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry.

However, change may be in the air. Many companies, NGOs, and governments have taken steps to conserve rainforests and buy only certified beef products. Buyers of cattle products such as Nike, Timberland, Carrefour, and Wal-Mart have declared that they will buy only certified cattle products. The NGO Alianca da Terra in Brazil is working to reduce deforestation of the Amazon due to beef production by creating incentives for producers to maintain their forest reserves. And, the Brazilian government has recently announced plans to reduce forest clearing of an area of about 2,100 square miles per year by 2018.  In 2013, 26 Brazilian beef producers faced fines of nearly $300 million from government prosecutors for buying cattle raised illegally on deforested Amazon rainforest land.

Despite these efforts, deforestation of the Amazon due to cattle ranching is continuing. What’s more, there are still many companies who buy significant volumes of beef knowingly from farms engaged in illegal deforestation. Hopefully, by increasing awareness about this issue in addition to pressuring companies to change their practices, solutions can be implemented for the Amazon before it’s too late.

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