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Nestle-owned brand sparks backlash over shady sourcing of ingredients: 'No company ... has any excuse'

There simply isn't enough research to back up the claim that collagen supplements do anything for human skin, hair, nails, and joints.

Major vitamin and collagen supplements

Photo Credit: iStock

Collagen is an important substance in the human body, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it starts to decline as you age. 

Lately, collagen supplements have become popular as a possible way to fix that problem. However, these supplements are poorly researched, may not work, and are often sourced from cattle farms in areas like Brazil, which are built by destroying parts of the Amazon rainforest, as The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) revealed.

What's happening?

For years, companies looking for a quick profit have been chipping away at the Amazon, cutting down areas of irreplaceable rainforest to sell the lumber and create cattle farms. Brazil's new president has made large strides in ending deforestation, but the destruction still continues at a slower pace.

Meanwhile, companies are still profiting from the areas that were already cut down. New laws in the EU and UK will ban many products from these sources in 2024.

According to a recent investigation by TBIJ, ITV News, The Guardian, and O Joio e O Trigo, international companies like Nestle-owned Vital Proteins use collagen sourced from Brazilian cowhides in their supplements. The farms involved are responsible for over 1,000 square miles of deforestation, according to the report — an area twice the size of the City of Los Angeles. 

"No company in the cosmetics industry has any excuse for sourcing products from areas of illegal deforestation," Chris Grayling MP, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global deforestation, told TBIJ. "I hope the new administration in Brazil will end the scourge of illegal deforestation." 

Why is Brazilian beef collagen a problem?

First of all, there simply isn't enough research to back up the claim that collagen supplements do anything for human skin, hair, nails, or joints.

As the Mayo Clinic explained, the collagen protein is too large to absorb from food and gets broken down during digestion. There's currently not enough evidence to know whether the human body uses the pieces from digested collagen to build new collagen. Taking collagen supplements may not do anything at all.

Second, collagen is considered a "by-product" of beef, and for this reason, it slips through many regulatory loopholes, TBIJ revealed. The new laws in the EU don't cover it, and the U.S. has no restrictions on its use.

However, TBIJ claimed that non-meat products like collagen bring in up to a quarter of the cattle industry's income and are a key part of the business model. So using products like collagen ultimately contributes to deforestation.

What's being done about Brazilian collagen?

The new EU law is up for review in 2025 when lawmakers hope to add beef byproducts to the list of banned items, TBIJ said.

Meanwhile, the recent investigation has put pressure on companies to end their use of Brazilian beef collagen. Nestle has committed to making its products deforestation-free by 2025.

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