Sainsbury’s and five other European supermarkets have announced they will stop selling some or all beef products originating in Brazil because of concerns over links to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and other ecologically important areas.

Sainsbury’s, along with Lidl Netherlands and others, took action after research into “cattle laundering” involving the meat conglomerate JBS. According to the news organisation Repórter Brasil, the company allegedly indirectly sourced cattle from illegally deforested areas.

A series of investigations by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) in recent years exposed deforestation linked to the Brazilian beef trade and highlighted the issue of cattle laundering, which occurs when animals raised on an illegally deforested plot of land are moved to a farm clear of deforestation to be fattened ahead of being trucked to an abattoir for slaughter and processing.

The true origin of the cattle is often hidden, and critics say the problem is widespread in Brazil and allows livestock from “dirty” farms linked to deforestation to be mixed with cattle from “clean” farms.

In the latest research, Repórter Brasil, working with the campaign group Mighty Earth, tracked deforestation-linked beef – including beef jerky, corned beef and fresh meat – from Brazil to European supermarket shelves.

In the case of Sainsbury’s, researchers found corned beef on sale that was processed at a JBS slaughterhouse in Lins, São Paulo. The abattoir had reportedly received supplies of cattle from a farm that sources animals for fattening from remote farms that have been officially sanctioned – and embargoed – for illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

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Embargos are imposed for environmental violations, such as farmers or landowners cutting down trees illegally, and serve both as a punishment and protective measure to allow land to recover.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “The link between cattle farming and the destruction of ecosystems like the Amazon, the Cerrado, and the Pantanal is a complex issue, which we take extremely seriously. We have taken a range of steps together with our suppliers and the wider industry to try to address this, but not enough progress has been made.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “The link between cattle farming and the destruction of ecosystems like the Amazon, the Cerrado, and the Pantanal is a complex issue, which we take extremely seriously. We have taken a range of steps together with our suppliers and the wider industry to try to address this, but not enough progress has been made.

“We are therefore committed to move our own brand corned beef sourcing away from Brazil to ensure Sainsbury’s corned beef product can be independently verified deforestation and conversion free in origin.”

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