Illegal Cattle

Illegal cattle endanger zero deforestation target

At the end of the 2000s, slaughterhouses in the Amazon region concluded a series of agreements to counteract deforestation through the expansion of local livestock farming. In a recently published study a research group led by the geographer Michael Klingler was able to prove that these so-called cattle agreements do not guarantee the exclusion of "illegal" cattle.

Brazil is currently not only the second largest soybean producer, but also the world's largest cattle producer and exporter. The municipality of Novo Progresso, located in the south-west of the state of Pará, exemplifies the social-ecological progress dilemma of modernization-oriented development. Between 2000 and 2014, the cattle population in the region has increased fivefold, exceeding the one million mark. At the same time, the conflict-ridden region is regarded as a hotspot of illegal deforestation and land speculation. As a result of the expanded soybean cultivation in Mato Grosso, extensive pasture farming and the associated deforestation have been shifting further north to Pará for years. These circumstances prompted the Brazilian government to introduce the PPCDAm action plan for preventing and controlling deforestation in the Amazon in 2004 - with success. The deforestation rate fell by almost 70 percent in the following year and was at its lowest level since records began in 2012. The success of the anti-forestation strategy has been attributed not only to the intensification of measures to control and sanction environmental offences, but also to the influence of zero deforestation agreements. They are regarded as particularly innovative measures which, in addition to a trade ban on soybeans, are now also urging meat processing companies to stop buying cattle grazing on illegal or unauthorized farms. According to the legally binding TAC agreement, areas are illegal if they are located in protected and restricted areas, if they have been illegally deforested since 2009, if they are subject to an official embargo for violations of environmental or social standards, if they are not registered in the environmental register or are connected with (modern) forms of slavery.

Use of a unique data set

However, a recently published study by a team including the Innsbruck geographer Dr. Michael Klingler questions the success of these cattle agreements. If the legally binding TAC or the G4 cattle agreement initiated by Greenpeace were to take effect, the exclusion of illegal cattle would have to be guaranteed. Using a data set from the ADEPARÁ veterinary association on the vaccination of cattle herds against foot-and-mouth disease which was for the first time ever released for a scientific study, the researchers were able to show that more than 350,000 or half of the local cattle graze illegally in the Novo Progresso area. By means of a geobased analysis of monitoring data and the information gained from the vaccination data, new insights into the situation of the cattle grazing industry in the Amazon region could be generated. Interviews with peasants and key figures from industry and politics confirm that there are in fact a number of loopholes to circumvent the strict criteria of the cattle agreements. Due to a lack of transparency in the supply chain between breeding and slaughter, the potential for "cattle laundering" is therefore very high. “In order to monitor the entire process, you would have to work with state-of-the-art technology. In the USA, for example, GPS chips are already being used to track the whereabouts of cattle over a longer period of time", says Michael Klingler. Cattle agreements are therefore not the decisive, but only one factor for the reduction of deforestation in Amazonia.

The importance of the political framework

The study was developed as part of the CARBIOCIAL research project, in which Michael Klingler was involved together with a working group led by Professor Martin Coy, head of the Institute of Geography. This project dealt with the interrelationships between climate change, land management and ecosystem services as well as the development of carbon-optimized land management strategies in the southern Amazon region. Michael Klingler spent four years as project coordinator in Brazil. At the local level, it became very clear that the measures of the state's anti-forestation strategy do not completely prevent the illegal appropriation and exploitation of land. On the other hand, the globally dominated climate and environmental policy discourses fuel new conflicts over land, which are intensified by the often unclear situation of land ownership. This development affects not only indigenous and traditional communities but also farmers who are deprived of the opportunity to legally acquire and cultivate land. "Current developments in Brazil show how important the political framework conditions are in this context. Since Michel Temer took office as president in 2016, corruption scandals, amnesty for environmental crimes and the reduction of protected areas have been the main headlines in the Brazilian news", criticizes Michael Klingler. "These developments are in stark contrast to the targeted zero deforestation targets", continues Michael Klingler.

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