In satellite images that shocked the world last month, the Amazon rainforest appeared to be consumed by fire. A firmament of blazes stretched across Brazil, home to 60 per cent of the biodiversity-rich landscape.
Encouraged by the country’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, ranchers, farmers and logging companies have been piling in to clear more land to raise cattle and grow crops such as soy for livestock feed and palm trees for oil. Bolsonaro pledged in January to develop the region for farming and mining.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research has been keeping track of fires in the Amazon since 2013, and said that this year’s blazes have been the worst yet. The fires have been spreading at the highest rate on record. Between January and August, there were 72,843 fires in Brazil. That figure is up 80 per cent on the same period last year.
Following international outrage and threats to trade, Bolsonaro vowed to tackle the fires, but his profit-oriented take on the Amazon has opened the “world’s lungs” to unprecedented exploitation at a time when all nations need to be taking urgent action to tackle the climate emergency. As well as storing vast amounts of carbon, the rainforest produces more than 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen.
Every one of us has a part to play in putting out these fires, by cutting back on the amount of meat we eat. Nearly half of the UK’s beef is imported and a growing proportion is coming from Brazil, a country that has 200 million cows and supplies a quarter of the world’s beef. A 2010 report by Friends of the Earth revealed that Britain’s appetite for beef was destroying an area of rainforest equivalent to twice the size of Greater London every year.
All kinds of meat and dairy are an issue, however, since a third of our soy imports is fed to livestock. The film KillerBean revealed a decade ago how Europe’s vast appetite for meat fuelled a huge increase in soy production in Brazil. Since the BSE outbreak of 2008 it has been the main source of protein in cattle feed across the continent.
If Brexit Britain, desperate for trade deals in a post-EU world, is forced to accept America’s chlorinated chicken and antibiotic-infused meat, then beef and soy grown on land that used to be pristine Amazon rainforest will also flood in. The EU, meanwhile, is on the verge of signing a free trade agreement with South America that would see beef quotas rocket to almost 100,000 tonnes a year and tariffs drop to 7.5 per cent.
That’s why the surest way to do our bit for the Amazon rainforest, and the planet, is to cut down on the amount of meat we eat. Start today!