UK food retailers threaten Brazil boycott over Amazon

The lungs of the Earth are under threat, but an army of British food retailers are joining forces to protect the Amazon rainforest.

We have written about the Amazon rainforest being the so-called lungs of the Earth, and the way that forest fires have threatened its safety in recent months. It’s no secret that there are concerns about how the Brazilian government is handling this precious natural resource, but now a flurry of proposals being presented to the Brazilian legislature are renewing the need for action.

Without knowing it, we’re eating meat and dairy products from animals fed on soy grown on deforested land in Brazil. We need to stop importing habitat destruction.

– Mike Barrett, Executive director of science and conservation at WWF-UK speaking to The Guardian

The proposals would legalise the private occupation of public land, including the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and may potentially open the door to greater deforestation. Over 40 UK-based food retailers have responded, threatening to call for a boycott of Brazilian products.

Land regularisation proposed

Never underestimate the power of consumers. That is the core message behind the open letter signed by the likes of Aldi, the British Retail Consortium, Greggs, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys and many more popular retail chains.

Legislative proposal PL 510/21 is being highlighted as a damaging measure being presented to Brazilian lawmakers in the view of the letter’s signatories. The proposed bill refers to plans to extend ‘land regularisation’ to 2,500 hectares, and would allow those settled on public lands to obtain deeds for their property under specific circumstances.

Cutting through the coded language of the proposal, it would, in effect, allow settlers to potentially level additional parts of the Amazon rainforest, in order to grow more crops and expand the land turned over to agricultural usage.

“These measures are counter to the narrative and rhetoric we have seen internationally from Brazil as recently as 22 April 2021 at the summit with US President Joe Biden”, the letter explains. “If this or other measures that undermine these existing protections become law, we will have no choice but to reconsider our support and use of the Brazilian agricultural commodity supply chain.”

Soft power at play

The letter in response to legislative proposal PL 510/21 demonstrates a display of soft power by some of the most well-known brands on the UK high street. Brazil’s most popular exports to the UK typically include agricultural products such as soybeans and coffee. Farmers have wasted no time in exploiting the fertile soil found in and around the Amazon rainforest.

Production of soybeans in Brazil effectively doubled in the last decade, at great cost to the planet, as we now know. In 2020, it was reported that at least 20 per cent of the soy exported from Brazil to Europe was produced as a direct result of deforestation.

Environmentally-savvy retailers and consumers across the world may have a part to play, however, in turning the tide. Limiting the support of Brazil’s agricultural exports is a demonstration of soft power, using economic pressure to change attitudes. Brazil’s economy has been in dire straits for a number of years, especially since the commodity slump of 2015-16, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

A well-timed application of economic pressure may produce some pain in the short term, but by making Brazilian lawmakers think twice about opening up the Amazon rainforest to potential deforestation, tangible change could be achieved at long last.

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