Agriculture and the Amazon
We were working on a news round up about the fires in the Amazon rainforest when Carrie Wasser, who blogs at Humaneitarian and was the longtime editor of Local Banquet, wrote this succinct opinion piece connecting the fires to agricultural production practices. She has graciously given LB permission to reprint it, which we have done below and at the end you’ll find a few “further reading” recommendations.
Hi folks – the Humaneitarian blog has been on hiatus, while I’ve been busy starting my own farm. But seeing today’s alarming photographs of the Amazon rainforest burning for miles on end has got me wanting to make the connection between choosing humanely raised meat and protecting this essential rainforest ecosystem so necessary for planetary stability.
See, Brazil exports beef. It’s the world’s top exporter of beef. And a lot of Amazon rainforest is cleared for that beef to be raised. The world can’t afford to lose much more of the Amazon because the rainforest is a major digester of the carbon we put into the atmosphere. So it follows that if Brazil cleared less of the Amazon for beef, the rainforest could be better protected and climate change could be slowed — certainly not stopped, but slowed.
This makes me not want to buy Brazilian beef. I can’t in good conscience give my money to corporations that are clearing the Amazon. Because of lax labeling laws, none of us can be sure whether the beef we buy is from Brazil or not. But because I am concerned about humane treatment of cows, and therefore buy pastured, grass-fed beef directly from small farmers in my home state of New York, I am by default not buying Amazonian beef.
When we care how farm animals are raised, and make it a point to buy only humanely raised meat, we tend to get it from responsible farms. So there are all sorts of trickle-down benefits to buying it: benefits to our land, to our health, to our communities. You can add “preserving the Amazon” to the list.
The current fires in the rainforest, contrary to public perception, are not in pristine areas that were never deforested. They are in areas that were already cleared for agriculture. But that’s just it — those areas were cleared for agriculture. Cleared, perhaps, for beef I won’t eat.
Editor’s Note: Want more on this topic? Here’s some additional recommended reading to go along with Carrie’s links above. Close readers of both sets will notice that Mongabay.com is carrying a lot of coverage on the fires and also that New Food Economy has done extensive reporting on transparency and labeling issues:
Mongabay has a series of reports including this comprehensive overview of the forest fire situation put together via satellites.
Wildfires Are Burning Around the World, from Vox, places the fires in the Amazon in a larger context.
The Amazon Cannot Be Recovered Once It’s Gone, from The Atlantic, is a short piece on why these fires are very very significant.
Don’t Cut Those Trees, Big Food Might Be Watching, from NPR’s The Salt, explains advances in tracking technology that helps food corporations follow better environmental guidelines when sourcing from places like the Amazon.
For a depressing counterpoint, this ProPublica report on efforts to preserve Brazilian rainforests (and other forestland), Why Carbon Credits May Be Worse Than Nothing.
The Grassfed Meat label primer from Vermont Fresh Network and this complementary piece on Beef Country of Origin Labeling from the New Food Economy explain transparency issues linked to destructive practices (such as burning rainforests) used to get a “grassfed” label.