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Consumer behavior: hunger for steak and soy fuels fires


TIME ONLINE | News, backgrounds and debates

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - The images of the burning rainforest in Brazil cause concern in the whole world. Although the fires rage thousands of kilometers away from Germany, the disaster on the other side of the Atlantic also has to do with consumer behavior in Europe.

Above all, the craving for juicy steaks and hearty chops fuels the deforestation and slash-and-burn of large areas in the Amazon.

"Of course, our actions in Germany have a lot to do with the loss of the rainforest," says the professor of the world food economy at the University of Göttingen, Matin Qaim. "For example, we're importing large amounts of soy as feed for our cattle and pigs, and rising soybeans are contributing to rainforest slashing in Brazil."

The Amazon is a fascinating ecosystem and the green lung of the world, but also a huge resource treasure that arouses desires: In the rainforest can earn good money with beef and soy, energy and gold. According to a study by the World Bank, especially farmers in the Amazon can operate much more profitably than in other regions.

According to environmentalists, farmers have planted the recent fires in the Amazon to create new grazing land for their cattle herds or fields for soybean cultivation. Usually already cleared forest areas are lit to burn the undergrowth and stumps, as the conservation organization Greenpeace explains. Because it is currently unusually dry in the region, the fires also spread to intact forest areas and continue to spread.

The FAO (World Food Organization) blames the transformation of pastureland for 80% of the rainforest losses in the Amazon region. In recent years, meat production in Brazil has exploded - around 200 million cattle now live in the largest country in South America. Exports rose more than 700 percent over the past 14 years, according to an analysis by Foodwatch. Today, Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter.

What grows on the vast pastures and fields in Brazil also lands on the plates in Europe. According to the EU Commission, Brazil is the largest exporter of agricultural products to the European Union. Last year, Brazil sold € 14.5 billion worth of agricultural products to the EU. The recently agreed free trade agreement between the South American economic union Mercosur and the European Union could become even more in the future.

"Germany and the European Union are complicit in the devastating forest fires with their signatures under the free trade agreement with the Mercosur states", says the Brazilian advisor of the Catholic Latin America relief organization Adveniat, Klemens Paffhausen. "The promised lower tariffs on imports of beef and soy from South America lead to more deforestation and more acreage."

France and Ireland are now threatening to block the Mercosur agreement in the face of massive deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest. Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) demanded protection guarantees for the Amazon. The EU Commission also wants to exert pressure on the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro through the Mercosur deal.

The EU is the third most important market for Brazilian beef. According to the Association of Brazilian Meat Exporters (ABIEC), around 118,000 tonnes of beef worth EUR 640 million went to the EU last year. However, the Europeans are far behind the main buyers China and Hong Kong. Only 5,700 tons of beef were shipped to Brazil from Brazil.

Even more important is the business with soy. Brazil is now the second largest producer of green beans. Most recently, 117 million tons of soybeans were harvested in the South American country. Again, the lion's share goes to China - and there could be more due to the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.

In order to do something against the deforestation of rainforest for new arable land or pastures, according to climate researcher Richard Fuchs from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, consumers should be asked to pay. "The consumption of meat has to go down," he recently told the German Press Agency. "The EU states could tax meat from animals that are fattened with soy from rainforest areas, so that the ecological consequential costs would be priced in."

EU Commission on trade with Brazil

Trade statistics EU-Brazil

Analysis Foodwatch

Analysis World Bank

Report Greenpeace

Statistics beef exports

Report agrarian today

Communication Farmers Association

Source: zeit

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