Aligning the market
The Legal Beef Project has been in development since 2009, even before the approval of the new Forest Code. It all started with a joint action developed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office to encourage beef producers to make purchases with information regarding the deforested area. As a result, the beef processors are now required to check several criteria, such as illegal deforestation, slave labour, land conflicts, etc.
Despite this not being anything new, not all the beef companies have signed up for the project. The companies are put off by the fact that participation requires signing a Term of Adjustment of Conduct (TAC) with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which implies admitting that something is wrong and they are now required to fix it. This, however, is how agreements are made.
The biggest problem of this model is to engage the beef processors that are not part of Legal Beef. As such, the legal representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Mato Grosso, Erich Masson, has created a strategy to encourage beef processors from the state to sign the Legal Beef TAC and to collaborate in an attempt to level the playing ground in the market and reduce illegal deforestation. In an interview with the Beef on Track Program, he explained the work that is being done.
Beef on Track: What is the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Mato Grosso state doing to engage beef processors that have not adhered to the Legal Beef TAC?
Erich Masson: We carried out an analysis with the help of the Beef on Track Program to assess how many beef companies operate in the state and are within the federal inspection and state inspection system. About ten have not adhered to the Legal Beef TAC. In absolute numbers it seems to be quite a lot but in terms of slaughter in the state it is not that significant. One of them is a unit of the Minerva beef processing plant, which is not a signatory here in the State but has signed Greenpeace's Commitment. So, even if they are not signatories to the TAC in this unit in Mato Grosso, they comply with the same requirements and send us reports.
Beef on Track: How many are signatories?
Erich Masson: Twenty-two beef processors in Mato Grosso, which represent more than 90% of the slaughterhouses, according to the last survey done in 2019. A new assessment needs to be done now because some beef companies have shut down and others opened during the pandemic. The demand for beef has grown because the price has increased a lot recently.
Beef on Track: Are all the beef processing plants based in the Amazon biome?
Erich Masson: Approximately half of Mato Grosso is not in the Amazon so many beef processing plants are in larger cities, such as Cuiabá and Rondonópolis, which are located in the Cerrado region, and others are based in the Pantanal. Since we have Prodes Cerrado, which also measures deforestation in this biome, we consider the state as a whole. It does not matter if it is Prodes Amazonia or Cerrado, the analyses must be carried out on the suppliers' properties. If we have the technology, we are going to use it. In addition, the supplier of a beef processors that is located in the Cerrado can buy cattle from a producer in the Amazon. The idea is that they all engage.
Beef on Track: What does engagement look like?
Erich Masson: We sent an invitation to all beef processors. Of those, only four attended the meeting we held in June. Three of which were interested in continuing the negotiations. We sent the TAC model, updated with the Unified Protocol created together with Imaflora last year. For the time being, we are in negotiations with these beef producers. We have not yet signed any new TACs.
Beef on Track: What is the biggest hurdle?
Erich Masson: The beef processors often do not know what TAC is. They think "It's something put here to complicate my life". The idea is to show them that it is no longer difficult to do the analyses nor is it as expensive. Another point to explain is the context of the TAC. In general, it is signed when there are irregularities but no one has investigated or pointed out any irregularity in that beef company, the TAC is precisely to prevent this from happening.
Beef on Track: What action has the Public Prosecutor's Office taken?
Erich Masson: Initially, it is preventive so that the problems can be solved out of court. If this is not possible, the idea is to analyse the purchases of the beef processors. The next approach is to request all the cattle movement data from the beef processor and to see if there are any environmental irregularities in the cattle suppliers. If we find that a cattle rancher has a farm with illegal deforestation, for example, we will embargo it. There is an article in the decree that regulates the Forest Code that sets the fine for farms that supply cattle from deforested areas. We charge the fine to the processing plant in court and initiate a civil public action after this analysis has been made against the processor.
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