The Amazon rainforest is on fire and all fingers are pointing to the animal agriculture industry as being primarily responsible for this environmental and public health catastrophe. This is not a wildfire, but the consequence of cattle ranching. If this seems like a far-fetched connection, here is the short story on how the flames you’re seeing on social media connect to you and your health.
If you had beef or chicken for lunch, it’s highly likely that it was coming from Brazil. The country exports to more than 150 countries across the world. Specifically the Amazon rainforest is responsible for US$5.5 billion worth of beef and US$6.5 billion worth of chicken exports per year.
These numbers are set to grow according to a 2019 USDA report: Brazilian production should increase by 3% and would export 11% more beef during 2019. Brazil is also a leading player in the processed meats coloring, Carmin, used in sausages, chorizos, and hot dogs.
Since president Jai Bolsonaro entered office in January 2019, organizations fighting to protect the environment are having a hard time doing their job given the climate-change denial stance the current government is silently endorsing.
Illegal cattle pasture actors see the Amazon as an untapped opportunity to be part of the very lucrative brazilian meat industry. Very low production costs, around US$0.03/litre of milk and US$0.15/kg of meat make it a very high margin business.
To boost the value per head of cattle, farmers promoted the expansion of Brachiaria brizantha, a high-performing sown pasture that adds 600-800g/day of weight per calf. This major forage species has grown at the expense of the rainforest diversity and represents more than 95% of the seeds sold in the region.
Conservationists faced big challenges to convert cattle farmers to crop farmers given that it requires low capital and benefits from a well-established brand equity and distribution channels worldwide.
The Amazon rainforest is the world’s lung. For scope, it stores carbon dioxide in its 390 billion trees, which helps substantially in slowing down global warming (if we set aside the recent assumption of low soil phosphorus availability and its negative impact on carbon sequestration). It also hosts trillions of types of bacteria in its soil, fauna and flora. In other words, one of the most vital hotspots of life on our planet is endangered because of a staggering demand. This demand - a.k.a the meat sold in your local supermarket or available in your freezer- makes farmers attracted to its high-profit and short-term economic gains. .
You probably live thousands of miles away from the Amazon rainforest and aren’t able to fully empathize beyond a few clicks and retweets. In fact, this is precisely what the food industry has been doing for decades: removing us from the source of where our food comes from and telling enticing stories to move its processed products from the shelves.
However, today we know. Science is clear about the impact of our food choices on the status of the planet. It is also clear that even the short-termist versions of us should cut animal products to live longer and healthier lives. Regardless of ethics and beliefs, we are currently way past the era where food choices can be the subject of a debate. Our over-consumption and over-production for decades has left us with no alternative than the one where as a species, we will leave our omnivore years behind us and embrace a plant-based or plant-centric diet.
A beef patty alters the Amazon’s soil microbiome, as well as your own inner biodiversity. Due to lack of fiber in your diet and climbing meat consumption, what’s happening in the Amazon is linked to the current state of public health globally. A crumbling food system with less nutrients, less biodiversity and more global warming is the foundation of the growing number of chronic conditions and gastro-intestinal ailments that are now prevalent among kids and young people globally.
The rainforest is burning as we are writing these lines, our most sincere thoughts and prayers go to every living being suffering from it.