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McDonald's Linked to Amazon Destruction

LONDON, UK, - Greenpeace today accused McDonald's of destroying the Amazon rainforest. Using satellite images, aerial surveillance, previously unreleased government documents, and on-the-ground monitoring, Greenpeace says it has traced soya grown on land that once was rainforest to an animal feed producer whose chickens are processed into Chicken McNuggets and other McDonald's products.

To dramatize their claim, this morning dozens of seven foot tall chickens invaded McDonald's restaurants across the UK and chained themselves to chairs. Scores of McDonald's around the country, including Leicester Square, London, were also fly-posted overnight with images of Ronald McDonald wielding a chainsaw. 

In Munich, Germany, protestors also gathered at McDonald's European environmental affairs headquarters and called on the company to stop destroying the Amazon rainforest.

Greenpeace protesters in chicken suits appeared at McDonald's restaurants across the UK this morning. Greenpeace forests campaign co-ordinator, Gavin Edwards, said, "Fast food giants like McDonald's are trashing the Amazon for cheap meat. Every time you buy a Chicken McNugget you could be taking a bite out of the Amazon."

As part of a new campaign to tackle the latest threat to the Amazon, Greenpeace has completed a year-long undercover investigation into the global trade in Amazon soya. The findings were published in a new report, "Eating up the Amazon."

McDonald's UK responded by confirming that the company "will be investigating the claim made by Greenpeace in full and will review it for consistency in line with our existing policy not to source beef from recently deforested areas."

"McDonald's in the UK sources the majority of its food from the UK and Ireland," the company said. "In 2005, over 17,000 British and Irish farmers supplied the company with ingredients."

Greenpeace says it has documentary evidence that proves the soya from Amazon farms is exported from Santarém, Brazil to Europe, along with non-Amazon soya.

"Three U.S. commodities giants, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill, which control most of Europe's soya market, are fueling the rainforest destruction to grow feed for animals in Europe," Greenpeace said today.

The environmental campaign group alleges that Cargill "has done deals with unscrupulous farms that have illegally grabbed and deforested areas of public and indigenous land."

"Cargill has illegally built its own port in the heart of the Amazon, from which it exports the soya to the Cargill terminal in Liverpool, UK. From there, the soya goes to Cargill-owned food producer, Sun Valley, which feeds the soya to the chickens it uses to make McNuggets, which it distributes to McDonald's restaurants across Europe," Greenpeace said.

Senior Sun Valley staff told Greenpeace 25 percent of their chicken feed comes from Cargill's Liverpool facility. Sun Valley supplies chicken to McDonald's across Europe.

In a meeting last week between Greenpeace and McDonald's, the company did not deny that their chicken is fed on Amazon Soya. Greenpeace first asked McDonald's to account for their chicken feed three months ago.

Greenpeace research shows that the arrival of Cargill in Santarém, and of soya farmers close behind, is having severe environmental impacts in the Amazon in the western part of Pará state.

Between 2002 and 2004, annual deforestation rates jumped from 15,000 to 28,000 hectares in Santarém and the neighboring municipality of Belterra in Pará.

According to official statistics over 1.6 million metric tons of soya has been exported through the port since it was opened in 2003.

Cargill exported over 220,000 metric tons of Brazilian soya from Santarém to Liverpool, England from March 2005 to February 2006, documents obtained by Greenpeace show.

Cargill has not responded to the Greenpeace allegations.

Greenpeace contends that most soya production in the region is illegal because environmental regulations requiring Amazon landowners in the region to keep 80 percent of their lands forested are rarely followed.

The Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts said in a 2005 report on the explosion of agriculture in the Amazon that cattle ranching is still the primary driver of deforestation, yet the soybean industry also promotes deforestation indirectly by displacing cattle ranching farther into the agricultural frontier.

Soy cultivation in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso with a rainforest remnant in the background. (Photo courtesy Woods Hole Research Center) So, although much of the expansion of soy production in the forest regions of northern Mato Grosso’s forest region takes place in lands previously cleared for cattle pasture, it still contributes indirectly to deforestation, the Woods Hole report states.

Soybean production in the Brazilian Amazon states grew approximately 60 percent between 1998 and 2002, and the cattle herd nearly doubled from 26.2 million in 1991 to 51.6 million in 2001, making Brazil the second largest soybean exporter and the world’s major beef exporter, according to the Woods Hole report.

This increase in production has transformed the agricultural sector into a serious threat to the Amazon environment. The effect of land clearing on the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants is severe.

The Greenpeace report quotes Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho of the University of Minas Gerais as saying, "By 2050, current trends in agricultural expansion will eliminate a total of 40 percent of Amazon forests, including at least two-thirds of the forest cover of six major watersheds and 12 eco-regions."

In Xingu Indigenous Park in the state of Mato Grosso, home to 14 indigenous tribes, the Greenpeace report cites claims the Xingu Park is being slowly poisoned by the toxic run off from chemical weedkillers used to grow soya. Satellite photos show that almost 30 percent of the Xingu River headwaters have been deforested.

Greenpeace research shows that not only is soya destroying the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, but soya farmers are guilty of further crimes including slavery and the invasion of indigenous peoples’ lands. The charge of slavery originates in the work of poorly paid laborers who become deeply indebted to their employers for high cost food and other goods.

Edwards said, "This crime stretches from the heart of the Amazon across the entire European food industry. Supermarkets and fast food giants, like McDonald's, must make sure their food is free from the links to the Amazon destruction, slavery and human rights abuses."

But restaurants and supermarkets do not trace the sources of their food and and feed to the Amazon. Over 30 major supermarket chains and fast food outlets were contacted by Greenpeace at the beginning of 2006; none responded that it is currently distinguishing between Amazon and non-Amazon soya used by their meat suppliers.

"Without such segregation," Greenpeace said in its report, "all are implicated in Amazon forest crime."

The Greenpeace Amazon Soya Crime File is online

The full report "Eating up the Amazon," is found