Burger King animal feed sourced from deforested lands in Brazil and Bolivia

Campaign group Mighty Earth says aerial drones, satellite imaging and field research show farmers carried out forest-burning for fast food giant’s soy suppliers

Harvesting a soybeans crop in Campo Novo do Parecis, Mato Grosso, Brazil
A soybean crop in Campo Novo do Parecis, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Last year, nearly 2m hectares of land was deforested in the country. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

The hamburger chain Burger King has been buying animal feed produced in soy plantations carved out by the burning of tropical forests in Brazil and Bolivia, according to a new report.

Jaguars, giant anteaters and sloths have all been affected by the disappearance of around 700,000 hectares (1,729,738 acres) of forest land between 2011 and 2015.

The campaign group Mighty Earth says that evidence gathered from aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping and field research shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning.

Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth’s CEO, said: “The connections are quite clear. Bunge and Cargill supply Burger King and other big meat sellers with grain. McDonald’s, Subway and KFC are not perfect but they’re doing a hell of a lot more to protect the forests. If Burger King does not respond immediately to people who want to know where their food comes from, then people should shop elsewhere.”

The destruction of tropical forest and savannah land highlighted in the report is concentrated in Bolivia’s lowland forests and in the Brazilian Cerrado, where the pace of deforestation is now outstripping that of the Amazon.

One of Burger King’s suppliers buys soy from Bunge that originates in the Brazilian Cerrado, according to commodities data provided by the Stockholm Enterprise Institute.

Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014.

Last year, nearly 2m hectares of land was deforested in Brazil – up from 1.5m in 2015 – while an estimated 865,000 hectares of forest was cleared in Bolivia, compared to 667,000 a year in the 2000s.

Not all of the forest clearing was linked to soy production, but Mighty Earth says food companies are not doing enough to prevent deforestation in areas they operate in, and offer financial incentives that spur the process in the first place.

Sharon Smith, a tropical forests manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “Burger King is one of the world’s largest fast food companies, but consistently ranks last in the industry when it comes to environmental protection policies. The fast food giant needs to follow its competitors like McDonald’s and demand that its suppliers are not destroying tropical forests as part of their business model.”

The fast food giant, which operates at least one joint venture with Cargill, declined to respond to requests for comment.

This aerial shot shows Amazon rain forest, bordered by deforested land prepared for planting soybeans in Mato Grosso, western Brazil

Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014.

In a written statement to the Guardian, Cargill stressed its commitment to halving incidences of deforestation in its supply chains by 2020 and ending it by 2030.

A company statement sent to the Guardian said: “In Brazil, we have seen great progress as we partnered to advance the soy moratorium in the Amazon for more than a decade. Today, we are working with more than 15,000 soy farmers and collaborating with governments, NGOs and partners to implement the Brazilian forest code and advance forest protection.”

Campaigners counter that Cargill has refused to extend the soy moratorium beyond the Amazon, with its trade association citing the lack of a “crisis situation”.

Bunge said that the report made a misleading correlation between Bunge’s presence in the Brazilian Cerrado and total deforestation figures in that region. “Two facts are important,” it said. “First, most land use change is not directly related to the crops Bunge buys. According to Global Forest Watch, soy covers 25% of land cleared since 2011 in the Matopiba region, where recent deforestation has been most prevalent. Second, our market share for the municipalities where we operate silos in the region is only 20%.”

More than half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation has already been cleared, compared to 25% of the Amazon’s.

Investors representing $617bn of assets on Tuesday sent a letter to Cargill, Bunge and several burger chains, in which they “demand that companies reaffirm and extend zero deforestation commitments specific to Latin America”.

This article was amended on 2 March 2017 to add a statement from Bunge received after publication.

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