Burger King Accused of Causing Deforestation Across Latin America

Brazil, Bolivia, Leon Kaye, deforestation, beef industry, soy, farming, Burger King, fast food, cerrado, human rights, supply chain
A charred forest before being bulldozed in Bolivia.

According to a recent report issued by the NGO Mighty Earth, Burger King’s opaque disclosures about its global supply chain are hiding deforestation across South America.

The company’s eight-sentence description of its corporate sustainability policy fails to inform its stakeholders about how its meat produced or how many of its ingredients are raised sustainably and responsibly, assert several NGOs. The result of this opaque supply chain, insists Mighty, is that Burger King has long turned a blind eye to its suppliers — which have been linked to the destruction of forests and savannas in Bolivia’s Amazon and Brazil’s cerrado.

Mighty’s investigation comes a few months after it partnered with other environmental groups to protest the sourcing practices at several Burger King restaurants in the U.S.

Mighty says its evidence is based on data including satellite images, drones, on-the-ground field research at almost 30 locations, and extensive supply chain mapping.

The biggest culprit, in Mighty’s view, is soy production. (Like many livestock farms, Mighty says Burger King’s suppliers feed their cattle, chickens and pigs a diet comprised partially of soy.) Between 2001 and 2010, Mighty estimated that soy and cattle together were responsible for the deforestation of an average of 4 million hectares a year across South America. And despite the success of the soy moratorium, launched a decade ago to halt the conversion of Amazonian forests into farmland for soy, farming and cattle interests continue to transform virgin lands across Bolivia and Brazil into soy plantations.

Last fall Brazil’s environment minister, José Sarney Filho, told a gathering of sustainability leaders that he supported extending the moratorium into Brazil’s cerrado. But despite the fact that half of these Brazilian savannas have been lost to agriculture, Burger King — in addition to its major suppliers Bunge and Cargill — have refused to extend that mechanism to these grasslands.

The result, according to Mighty’s investigation, is the destruction of natural habitat for some of South America’s most endangered animals. In addition, soy and cattle interests have been accused of land grabbing, human rights violations and even murder in South America. Indigenous communities have lost access to lands on which their families survived for generations, and are often subjected to indiscriminate pesticide exposure.

And the real tragedy is that while more virgin forests and grasslands are lost to monoculture soy plantations and cattle pastures, at least 200 million hectares of degraded forests elsewhere in South America could be developed instead of causing more deforestation, Mighty insists. The NGO’s investigation says that Bunge alone is responsible for the destruction of 527,562 hectares between 2011 and 2015; and it linked Cargill to 130,000 hectares of deforested land over the same period.

Burger King did not reply to TriplePundit’s repeated requests for a comment on Mighty’s accusations.

But the fast-food giant has long been in other NGOs’ crosshairs for its suppliers’ links to deforestation. Earlier this decade, Greenpeace took credit for Burger King’s decision to cancel contracts with Sinar Mas, a major Southeast Asian palm oil supplier that was accused of rampant deforestation across Indonesia. And last summer, the Union of Concerned Scientists called out Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International (RBI), for not matching its sustainability and deforestation plans with action.

Mighty — along with one of its partners, the Rainforest Foundation of Norway — is calling on Burger King and RBI (which also owns the Canadian doughnut chain Tim Horton’s) to take four significant steps:

  1. Implement a stringent “no deforestation, no exploitation” policy
  2. Publicly post all suppliers and disclose their progress on compliance with sustainability policies
  3. Follow the lead of competitors such as McDonald’s, which supports an expanded soy moratorium
  4. Work with governments and NGOs to implement zero-deforestation policies in regions that are at most environmental risk

Whether these companies will heed the call remains to be seen.

Image credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm via Mighty

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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