Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter — here’s why eating meat is linked to the Amazon fires

Following is a transcript of the video.

More than 42,000 wildfires have been detected in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and worldwide meat consumption may deserve much of the blame.

As demand for beef has grown around the globe, Brazilian farmers have set fires to clear the forest, making way for more and more pasture land over the past six decades.

And Brazil has become the largest producer and exporter of beef in the world.

Today, nearly 50% of Brazilian livestock are raised in fields that used to be rainforest.

Even though fires like these have been happening for decades, this year’s fires have taken center stage at the G7 Summit, where world leaders agreed to give a $20 million aid package to help Brazil and neighboring countries protect the Amazon.

It has also sparked international protest and caught the attention of world leaders and celebrities, though their social media posts aren’t always accurate.

But the devastation is real, with fires spreading across more than 7,000 square miles so far this year – an area larger than Puerto Rico. This massive rainforest helps control the planet’s climate by absorbing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

And for many of Brazil’s surviving indigenous tribes, the rainforest is home.

Raimundo Mura: For this forest, I will go on until my last drop of blood.

Thiago Parintintin: Even our food source starts to change. Today, what we hunt, is not close by. Nowadays, we have to go to the city and get industrialized food.

Narrator: Raising and eating beef has been part of this country’s DNA for centuries, and Brazilian steakhouses have become famous around the world.

Until the mid-20th century, livestock were only raised on native grasslands.

This began to change in the 1960s, when the government created livestock programs near the Amazon forest, with the goal of developing some of those areas.

That’s when farmers began clearing up the forests to make room for cattle, often by burning.

For decades now, the growth of livestock has been directly related to the deforestation of the Amazon.

By 2017, the number of cattle grazing on land that used to be covered in thick canopy had grown to about 60 million – 12 times what it was in 1975.

Meanwhile, the deforested area displaced by cattle grew by nearly 1,000%.

Today, Brazil has the planet’s second largest herd of cattle and produces 10 million metric tonnes of beef per year. It’s also the world’s top exporter providing 20 percent of global beef exports, with China as its largest customer.

But livestock isn’t the only agribusiness playing a role in deforestation. Farmers also burn the land to grow crops, such as soybeans.

China plays a key role here, too.

Since 2003, the Chinese appetite for Brazilian commodities produced in the Amazon has grown, including iron, soybeans, and beef.

Even though most of the Amazon is still protected under the law, it’s hard to control illegal activity, including fires, since remote areas are hard to monitor, and also because about half of all protected native vegetation in Brazil sits on private property.

Meanwhile, 12.2 percent of Brazil is protected indigenous land – most of it in the Amazon.

The Mura people have been living in the rainforest since colonial times, and have witnessed the pace of development.

Handech Wakana Mura: Over the years we have resisted here, when there was no access by road, when electricity arrived, when the invasion happened. And with each passing day we see the destruction advance: deforestation, invasion, logging. We are sad because the forest is dying at every moment, we feel the climate changing and the world needs the forest. We need it and our children need.

Narrator: Members of another tribe say losing the forest has made it more difficult for them to continue with their way of life.

Thiago Parintintin: Indigenous groups suffer with the impact because even our food source starts to change. Today, what we hunt, is not close by so we have to go to the city and get industrialized food.

Marcelo Parintintin: I am 31 years old and I think about the future generation, our children and grandchildren, because today we have land that has been preserved but in 10 or 15 years, we will not be able to live the way we live now.

Narrator: The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, initially dismissed the severity of fires, and even accused environmental NGOs of having started them for attention – with no evidence.

Jair Bolsonaro: NGOs have lost money. The money that used to come from Norway and Germany. They are without jobs. So what do they do? They try to bring me down but what about them?

Narrator: But following the international attention and threats from French president Emmanuel Macron to block a deal between the EU and the Latin American trading block, Bolsonaro has announced the deployment of military forces to help fight the fires.

Bolsonaro: Our government has zero tolerance for crime. And it won’t be different when it comes to the environment.

Narrator: But the fires are still raging beyond human control, and the long term prospects are grim. In neighboring Bolivia, national media reports experts saying that it would take 200 years for nature to repair the damage from fires currently burning in that country.

In response to the fires, the Finnish finance minister has called on Europe to consider banning Brazilian beef.

The United States stopped importing fresh beef from Brazil in 2017. But just in June, the USDA sent veterinary missions to Brazil to inspect the meat across the country, a move that could indicate a chance of reopening the US market for imports of Brazilian beef.

Yet despite the global commotion, international meat consumption doesn’t show signs of slowing down.