Global Appetite for Meat Linked to Biodiversity Loss in Brazil

A plantation in Mato Grosso Do Sol, Brazil.

(CN) – Global demand for Brazilian beef and other meat products could be responsible for more than half of the loss of the habitats of rare species in the country, according to research released Monday.

A new research paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 55% of biodiversity loss in Brazil’s Cerrado savannah can be traced to increased soy production driven by overseas demand for meat.

Although the Cerrado’s hosts 5% of the entire world’s species, much of the land is being lost every year for agricultural purposes, specifically the increasing production of soy used for livestock feed.

“Our findings underline that local biodiversity loss is a global problem,” said co-author Paz Durán of the Universidad Austral de Chile. “Although both companies and consumers are paying increasing attention to the environmental cost of products, the complex nature of international supply chains can result in connections between a product and its environmental footprint being lost.”

The scientists examined more than 400 animal and plants species in the Cerrado that are dependent on the savannah’s ecosystems for survival and how they are impacted by the loss of land.

Researchers discovered that one species, the giant anteater, could attribute 86% of its loss of range to the increased soy consumption in Mato Grosso, a state in west-central Brazil.

Using their data on impacted species, the scientists were able to create a link between the loss of biodiversity and the countries responsible. They found the impacts largely driven by China with 22% consumption and the European Union with 15% consumption.

“Our new method reveals specific links between consumer countries, traders, soy production and habitat loss. This kind of knowledge can be invaluable for helping companies and countries to source more sustainably and invest in less ecologically harmful agriculture,” said lead author Jonathan Green at the University of York.

The breakthrough of the study, according to researchers, is the ability to track the loss of biodiversity back to the source of international sales.

“The most exciting advance in bringing together these sophisticated datasets and models is the level of accountability it makes possible: we can now start to see exactly which businesses and consumers are harming threatened species, where, how, and in unprecedented detail,” said co-author Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University.

Co-author Toby Gardner of SEI added: “These results show that it is possible to use existing datasets to see through the tangled web of global commerce, giving us the detailed information we need to devise solutions. We hope this methodology will be extended to other agricultural commodities and ecosystems in the near future.”

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