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Authorities file rare lawsuits seeking millions from world's biggest meatpacker over illegal and destructive practice

"We will keep having the same problems."

"We will keep having the same problems."

Photo Credit: iStock

The Brazilian state of Rondônia claims that the world's largest meat producer, JBS, has purchased cattle raised in an illegally deforested area of the Amazon rainforest, The New York Times reports.  

Officials from Rondônia have filed a lawsuit that seeks millions of dollars in damage relief from the farmers and companies involved.

What's happening?

JBS and three smaller meatpacking companies have been purchasing cattle raised illegally in protected reserves of western Brazil, according to Rondônia state officials. 

According to the Associated Press and The New York Times, authorities claim that between 2019 and 2021, JBS purchased a total of 227 cattle that came from 1,000 acres of illegally deforested land.

The 17 lawsuits involved in the case are seeking a total of around $3.4 million from the companies and farmers as a result of "invading, occupying, exploiting, causing environmental damage, preventing natural regeneration, and/or taking economic advantage" of the protected lands, per the AP.

According to the courts, the estimated total damage of the forest destruction is a staggering $1 billion. 

"The invaders and their main business partners — loggers and meatpacking companies — make the profits their own while passing on to society the costs of environmental damage," the lawsuits say, as noted by U.S. News & World Report.

Why is illegally raised cattle in the Amazon important?

The purchased cattle were illegally raised in the Jaci-Paraná Extractive Reserve, one of the Amazon's most deforested protected regions. Since the reserve's establishment in 1996, the region has lost 77% of its forest, per The New York Times

The protected area was once a thriving biodiversity hotspot; however, after extensive deforestation by land-grabbers, loggers, and cattle ranchers, the rainforest land is now a grassland. 

Deforestation has a direct impact on the environment. Trees are known as the "lungs of our planet" because they act as vital carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide that would otherwise end up as pollution in the air. 

Clearing forests not only eliminates the carbon-absorbing function of trees but also releases the carbon stored in trees back into the atmosphere, both of which contribute to the overheating of our planet. 

The trees of the Amazon are also home to many wildlife species. Destroying these protected lands to raise cattle threatens the biodiversity of the region's wildlife. 

What's being done about illegally raised cattle in the Amazon?

The goal of the lawsuits is to hold the companies and farmers accountable for misusing protected lands within the Amazon rainforest

According to Daniel Azeredo, a federal prosecutor who has been investigating cattle ranching for more than a decade, the Rondônia lawsuits "strengthen the need for the country to improve traceability." Without the necessary protocol, "we will keep having the same problems," said Azeredo, per the Times

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