Beef is one of the most popular food sources, enjoyed in many countries throughout the globe. Yet this desire for meat is having a large, negative impact in one specific area: the Amazon rainforest.
In short, beef has to come from somewhere and a continued demand for beef has lead to deforestation in the Amazon jungle. Of course, the real answer is much more complicated and there are many factors that we need to consider, including our own demand and desire for beef.
Beef, The Amazon And Brazil
The Amazon rainforest calls many countries home, notably the likes of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and more. Nearly all of these have some form of cattle ranching – with Brazil being the largest – but just how big is this industry?
According to the WWF, it’s the cause for 80% of deforestation in this region. So far, we’ve lost at least 750,000 square kilometers of the Amazon, which is the same size as Chile (approximately 750,000 square kilometers, also) and larger than Spain (506,000) or France (640,000). That’s an entire country’s area of rainforest gone, almost entirely replaced with cattle.
While numerous countries have a hand in this deforestation, Brazil is the leading contributor and, coincidentally, it also has the majority (60 per cent) of the Amazon sitting in its borders. Numerous reports identify Brazil as the world’s most productive beef exporter, with volumes that are only increasing.
Between 1996 and 2004, the country jumped from $1.9 million to $1.9 billion in beef exports. It’s estimated that roughly 190 million cattle call Brazil home – all of which require somewhere to graze.
The Relationship Between Cattle And Rainforest
Numbers aside, why does an influx of cattle lead to such drastic deforestation? The answer comes from the method of livestock production used by these industries.
Brazil and other countries in Central America use the grazing method. This gives cows large open land to walk and feed on. Of course, this requires grassland so, while Brazil has the space for cattle, it has to remove the ancient trees and jungles to do so.
The alternative to this is intensive farming, which brings its own problems. By restricting cattle to small spaces, the lack of grass would require around 7 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef. Aside from the obvious animal cruelty, this would take up even more space in grain farming.
The underlying issue to all of this is that the rainforest does not spring back to life overnight. It only takes weeks to cut down an area of jungle, yet sources such as the New Scientist estimate it will take around 4,000 years to restore the land to its former, thriving condition.
In short, any area of rainforest lost will not grow back for numerous decades, while the rate we are cutting through the Amazon ensures it may just be gone altogether within 100 years. In other words, action needs to be taken now to preserve what land is left.
Why Does Brazil Do This?
For countries like Brazil, a push for deforestation isn’t out of any contempt for the Amazon. Ultimately, Brazil is feeding a wider demand for beef. According to organisations such as Greenpeace, the volumes of beef being exported are only going up.
This means, consequently, that the sheer demand for beef is also rising, so who’s buying all of this meat? The US alone imports around 200 million pounds worth from various Central American companies, yet Australia, China, Russia and Europe are all also developing a larger appetite for beef.
From a purely financial point of view, it’s clear to see why countries such as Brazil continue to cut down the rainforest. In fact, Brazil’s government wants to double its current hold of the market by 2018 – a clear sign of the available profits to be made from beef.
The Consequences Of Deforestation
With such a large amount of woodland as the Amazon, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there are some very worrying consequences. Forests such as this are vital in balancing the earth’s atmosphere. The Amazon, often called “the lungs of the earth” by many, are one of the largest producers of oxygen, as well as taking in large numbers of carbon dioxide.
As such, destroying land here disrupts the wider balance of the planet. If that wasn’t enough, its replacement further tips the balance in favour of carbon production. The cattle industry creates roughly 340 million tonnes of carbon on an annual basis. To put this into perspective, that’s 3.4 percent of the world’s total emissions and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, a larger source of greenhouse gases than is released by vehicles.
How To Combat This
Since Brazil is doing this for profitable reasons, caused by our own desire for beef, there are a few clear ways you can start making a change. As a customer and consumer, the beef you purchase will go a long way in helping create a shift towards more sustainable, greener living.
Whenever you purchase beef, whether it’s in a local supermarket, your local butcher or even at a restaurant, always inquire about its origins. Choosing local beef, for instance, over Central American meat will help decrease demand for these unsustainable options.
Similarly, you can bring this issue to other people’s attention. There are many ways to do this so, whether you’re talking with friends or taking to the likes of twitter, don’t be afraid to let other people know why their choice of beef is crucial.
Of course, if you’re interested in living a greener lifestyle, you can also be more self-sustainable and grow food in your own garden. While you likely don’t have the space for cattle, you can easily grow your own fruits and vegetables.
There are always plenty of environmentally-friendly activities you can do, so why not start including a greater awareness of beef? This is something to consider everytime you go shopping, for instance. By actively purchasing away from Central American beef, consumers can start a trend that should cause the big corporations to take note.
About the author:
Tim Sparke is the CEO at 4 Pumps and for several years, he has been an active advocate of organic farming and sustainability. Aside from being a specialist of water pumps, he also has a passion for writing and he writes his blog.