The UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, has been urged by environmental campaigners to cut ties with meat suppliers linked to deforestation in the Amazon.
Greenpeace UK has accused Tesco of buying meat from two UK companies, Moy Park and Tulip, which are owned and controlled by JBS, a large meat-packing company Greenpeace says has “been exposed time and time again for its part in deforesting the Amazon”.
In response, the supermarket has released a statement on Aug. 5 calling on the government to step in to ensure all food sold in the UK is “deforestation-free” — and suggesting the issue was too big for supermarkets to solve by themselves.
“We call for our government to mandate food companies, as part of its National Food Strategy, to introduce effective due diligence across supply chains to make sure all food sold in the UK is deforestation-free,” said Dave Lewis, Tesco Group chief executive, in the statement. “We are making tangible progress but we can’t solve this on our own."
The company said in the same statement that it has stopped selling Brazilian meat (beef, chicken, or pork) because of “concerns about deforestation” since 2018.
However, it said it will not stop buying from the two UK suppliers Greenpeace UK pinpointed.
Tesco said: “Moy Park and Tulip also supply Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose. Blacklisting them could lead to thousands of job losses.”
Deforestation occurs when farmers clear rainforest with fires and use the land for animal grazing.
Cattle-ranching is responsible for vast amounts of the destruction of rainforests, accounting for 80% of deforestation rates in Amazon countries, for example. In Brazil between 2001 and 2015, nearly 75 million hectares of tree cover was destroyed, according to NGOs.
Greenpeace has further documented the role of JBS — the owner of the two Tesco suppliers — in rainforest destruction in its "Still Slaughtering the Amazon" report, published on Aug. 5, and says it has been fined billions of dollars by Brazilian regulators.
In response to the claims, a JBS spokesperson told the Guardian: "All JBS subsidiary companies adhere to strict responsible procurement policies throughout their supply chains and share our dedication to eliminating deforestation for good.”
“We have been at the forefront of the industry in taking steps to improve supply chain traceability in Brazil," they added. "JBS will continue to evolve continuously in new initiatives and plans in the coming months to promote significant changes.”
On July 30 food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, the UK's "food tsar", also highlighted in his first report for a new National Food Strategy that the UK should have new verification rules about imported beef linked to deforestation to make it easier for companies to avoid purchasing it.
It is that strategy — yet to be implemented — that Tesco is referring to and says will help solve the problem, but campaigners aren’t completely convinced the company can’t act alone. Greenpeace UK says that as the largest retailer in the UK, “Tesco must lead the way” in making these changes.
Cutting back on meat
Greenpeace UK has also said the retailer should halve the amount of meat produce it has on sale by 2025 “to protect people, wildlife, and the climate.”
“Tesco’s CEO knows we need to eat less meat and dairy to protect forests and stop climate breakdown,” Greenpeace UK’s head of forests Anna Jones said in a press release. “And yet the supermarket sells more of it than any other UK company.”
She adds: “Unless Tesco commits to significantly reducing meat and dairy sales and drops forest destroyers immediately, vitally important forests will continue to be slashed and burned, and climate change and the risk of future pandemics will only get worse.”
In response to that, the supermarket said that it has worked on introducing more vegan and meat-free ranges and says: “Right now, [research shows] 74% of shoppers don’t want supermarkets to remove meat, but we recognise the whole country needs to reduce meat and dairy consumption.”