Eco-friendly, sustainable living entails limiting your commercial actions that cause ongoing environmental or social damage. With this in mind, how often do you think about your last burger?
See, that beef had to come from somewhere, and there's a good chance it's from the deforestation of one of the oldest and largest rainforests on the planet—the Amazon jungle.
Beef industries and the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is found within the borders of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela, and almost all of these have a large, thriving cattle ranching industry. How big?
Well, big enough to cause around 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation, according to reports from the WWF. So far, around 750,000 square kilometres of Amazon woodland has been torn up and converted for livestock agriculture; that’s an area the size of a small country. Just compare it to Chile (roughly 750,000 square kilometres), France (640,000 square kilometres), or Spain (506,000 square kilometres).
Although the Amazon spreads over many countries, 60 percent of it lies within the borders of Brazil. The problem, as various reports confirm, is that Brazil is the largest beef exporter on the globe, and it produces an amount of beef that is only increasing.
In 1996, the country shipped $1.9 million in beef alone, and in 2004, it exported $1.9 billion, making it arguably the biggest cow farm on the planet, with as many as 190 million cattle being raised right now.
How cattle production destroys the rainforest
There are actually two different types of livestock production.
Grazing, the method Brazil and numerous other countries use, involves giving the cattle plenty of land to feed and walk. However, grazing requires open grassland, not rainforests, which is why the Amazon is being aggressively cut down and pushed back.
Intensive farming, on the other hand, retains the cattle in small, restricted spaces. Aside from the animal cruelty, it takes around 7 pounds of grain for every pound of beef produced this way. The farmland for grain would take up more space than the cattle.
The problem here is that rainforests cannot simply just grow back. While a section of the Amazon can be cleared in a matter of weeks at the quickest, New Scientist estimates it takes around 4,000 years for the land to regenerate to its former state.
This means that any area of rainforest sacrificed won’t return in our lifetime, or for many future generations afterwards. Considering that some estimates suggest the Amazon will be completely gone by the next 100 years, there is little hope for this precious woodland if things continue the way they are.
Understanding the consequences
It should come as no surprise to learn there are some very serious repercussions of deforestation. Woodlands and forests across the world are all vital for helping us live and breathe. Due to its sheer size, few of these are as important as the Amazon.
Known to environmental scientists as ‘the lungs of the earth’, the Amazon plays a vital role in keeping our atmosphere stable, replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen. This means that this continued deforestation doesn’t just impair the Amazon's benefits to the earth; it also introduces more damaging processes.
Cattle ranching sends around 340 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year, accounting for 3.4 percent of the world’s emissions. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states, beef production currently produces more greenhouse gases than vehicles release.
Of course, Brazil is just feeding the wider global demand. It is an exporter, which means it is meeting the demands met elsewhere. According to Greenpeace, the rate of beef exports are continually increasing.
The US buys 200 million pounds of beef from Central America, but they’re not alone. Australia and Europe both have a high demand for beef, while other nations like China and Russia are rapidly converting into beef-loving cultures as well.
As demand increases, these Central America countries likewise increase their production. The Brazilian government already has plans to double its share of the market by 2018—just two short years away. All this extra cattle ranching causes numerous problems, including increased deforestation and displacement of indigenous communities.
Of course, you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t willing to make a change and take action. You might not be a Brazilian farmer or the owner of a big food chain, but you can still do your part as a consumer.
As a customer, you have the power to put your money in the hands that matter. The big beef corporations that buy from Central America are meeting the demands of their customers. Challenge big restaurants and purchase your own beef from local farmers, as well as those that promise responsible and sustainable farming methods.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to put your voice out there. Whether it’s taking the cause to social media or having open discussions with friends, it always helps to let others know what is going on. You can also campaign directly to big companies and restaurants.
Finally, there’s no need for you to rely on such environmentally unfriendly companies for food. In fact, you can grow your own food right in your own garden. While a cow might be a little too big, you can water your own vegetables and herbs. These are simple to grow and, once you expand into more vegetables and fruits, you will find you are able to provide a wide variety of food for yourself.
In fact, there are many environmentally-friendly activities that you can do to provide for yourself, improve your local area and generally support nature. If you can do all this, why can’t big corporations follow suite? Remember this the next time you see a beef burger on the menu.