Brazil’s Amazon beef plan will ‘legalize deforestation’ say critics

The beef industry hopes a planned deforestation-free farming zone will tempt buyers back but many fear it will drive up illegal clearing in the Amazon.


By Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance, Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN)

November 17, 2021


For many, the overriding image of agriculture in the Amazon is one of environmental destruction. About 80 percent of deforestation in the region has been attributed to cattle ranching, tainting beef exports.


Brazil’s beef industry hopes to tempt buyers back to the Amazon region, which covers about 40 percent of the country’s total area, with a new deforestation-free pledge. But critics are concerned it could effectively legalize deforestation in the region.


In May, government officials began fleshing out the details of the so-called Amacro sustainable development zone, which it is hoped will lead to a massive intensification of agriculture in the Amazon. The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is expected to greenlight the project later this year.


The Amacro zone — an acronym taken from the states it covers: Amazonas, Acre and Rondônia — is a vast, 180,000-square-mile region in northwest Brazil. It encompasses the Mapinguari national park, Brazil’s fifth largest protected area, and the Kaxarari indigenous territory, where the tribe has struggled to defend its land against loggers. Greenpeace has identified the northern portion of the zone as an emerging deforestation hotspot.


Previous agricultural development projects have led to the loss of vast tracts of native vegetation in other parts of Brazil, but Amacro’s proponents promise it is being designed to prevent illegal deforestation. Edivan Maciel, the former agriculture secretary in the state of Acre, says the aim is to produce more beef on land that has already been cleared. It is about “optimizing what we already have without having to advance over the forest,” says Maciel, a Bolsonaro-allied appointee.


But Humberto de Aguiar, a federal prosecutor in Acre who handles environmental crimes, told a joint investigation by The Guardian and the Food & Environment Reporting Network that the effect of the plan is such as “to legalize the deforestation already being done.”


Amacro is the brainchild of Assuero Doca Veronez, a powerful figure in Amazonian agribusiness, who told a Brazilian news site last year that “deforestation for us is synonymous with progress.” Veronez, a ranch owner and president of Acre’s Federation of Agriculture and Livestock, was fined for illegal deforestation in 2006. He denied any wrongdoing and said he sold the property in 2002...


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