2006-04-28 at 11:15:00 am #15285
International — It is a globally known symbol: the golden arches can be seen in many countries around the world. But whatever the fast food giant wants you to believe the golden arches stand for, McDonald’s today stands for rainforest destruction. And that is one very ‘Unhappy Meal’ for the planet.
The Amazon rainforest needs no introduction; the mere mention of its name conjures up images of a huge untouched wilderness bursting with amazing life. But to McDonald’s and a handful of huge soya traders, the Amazon means something completely different. It means cheap land and cheap labour. Cheap land because it is often stolen, cheap labour because some of the people who work cutting down the forest or work on the farms in the Amazon are actually slaves. You heard it right, slaves.
‘How is this possible,’ you ask? Well it goes something like this.
The soya traders encourage farmers to cut down the rainforest and plant massive soya monocultures. The traders take the soya and ship it to Europe where it is fed to animals like chickens and pigs. The animals are then turned into fast food products like McDonald’s McNuggets and many other products found in fast food outlets and supermarkets.
The journey from rainforest to restaurant might sound simple enough but it has taken a year-long investigation using satellite images, aerial surveillance, previously unreleased government documents and on-the-ground monitoring to expose. What we found was a global trade in soya from rainforest destruction in the Amazon to McDonald’s fast food outlets and supermarkets across Europe.
“This crime stretches from the heart of the Amazon across the entire European food industry. Supermarkets and fast food giants, like McDonald’s, must make sure their food is free from the links to the Amazon destruction, slavery and human rights abuses”
Greenpeace forests campaign co-ordinator, Gavin Edwards.
Most of the global trade in soya is controlled by a small number of massive traders: Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). In Brazil, this cartel plays the role of bank to the farmers. Instead of providing loans they give farmers seed, fertiliser and herbicides in return for soya at harvest: Bunge alone provided the equivalent of nearly US$1 billion worth of seed, fertiliser and herbicides to Brazilian farmers in 2004.
This gives the companies indirect control over huge areas of land that used to be rainforest. Together, these three companies are responsible for around 60 percent of the total financing of soya production in Brazil.
The state of Mato Grosso is Brazil’s worst in terms of deforestation and forest fires, accounting for nearly half of all the deforestation in the Amazon in 2003-04. In Mato Grosso, the governor, Blairo Maggi, is known locally as the ‘Soya King’. His own massive soya company Grupo Andre Maggi controls much of the soya production in the state and since his election in 2002, forest destruction in Mato Grosso has increased by 30 percent.
Banks too have been caught up in the destruction of the Amazon. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, wrongly assessed a loan to Grupo Andre Maggi as being of ‘low environmental risk,’ despite evidence to the contrary. Other banks have also lent huge sums of money to the company without conducting their own environmental or social impact audits.
So far, Rabobank, the Netherlands’ biggest agricultural bank has lent over US$330 million to Grupo Andre Maggi. Rabobank admitted that it didn’t do its own assessment of the risk of the loans, simply accepting the (flawed) assessment of the IFC.
So fast food and supermarkets, soya traders and big banks are all trashing the Amazon rainforest.
If we can track soya beans more than 7,000km (4,400 miles) from farms in the Amazon to chicken products in Europe, there is no excuse for the food industry not to know where their feed comes from, and to demand the exclusion of Amazon soya from their supply chain.