An ambitious commitment by some of the world's largest companies not to buy beef or leather products from the Brazilian Amazon may falter if a strong monitoring system isn't put in place.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
A recent decision by a group of multinational companies that include Nike, Adidas, and Timberland to boycott beef and leather products from the Brazilian Amazon -- the largest cattle-ranching area in the world -- might sound like a good way to reduce deforestation.
"These companies are ... telling their suppliers they expect to see zero deforestation or they will stop buying from them," says Tatiana Carvalho, an Amazon campaigner at Greenpeace, one of the moratorium's main coordinators. "That is a big step forward."
The shoemakers and the Brazilian subsidiaries of supermarkets Wal-Mart and Carrefour agreed that as of June 22, they would not purchase beef or leather from suppliers who cut down rainforest trees to open up new cattle pasture.
But without a strict monitoring and labeling system, the moratorium on beef products from the Brazilian Amazon could amount to little more than a publicity stunt, environmentalists warn. Brazil's beef producers' association has dismissed the moratorium as "meaningless."
A tracking system that clarifies where beef or leather has been produced is not yet in place, making it difficult for producers to know whether a steak or a piece of shoe leather came from deep in the Amazon or from grazing lands in the south of the country. When the European Union looked at farms' traceability procedures last year, it approved beef exports from only 1,376 of the country's estimated 5,000,000 cattle farms.
Leather is more problematic, since it is sold on the open commodities market and is even harder to trace.