Is the Brazilian taxpayer financing deforestation?

The question is part of the reflection presented in the article “The invisible costs of a kilo of meat”, by Jaqueline Ferreira, Project and Products Manager of instituto Escolhas. The text makes a joint reading of the results published in the study “From pasture to dish: subsidies and environmental footprint of beef” recently launched. The work reveals the amount of public money allocated to the meat chain and the environmental impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Read the full article published originally in the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

The invisible costs of a kilo of meat

The beef cattle production chain in the country has shown expressive results in recent years, ranging from the increase in the share of GDP and exports, the increase in productivity to the expansion of domestic consumption. In 2017, the activity represented 2.9% of GDP and 13.9% of agribusiness GDP according to data from CEPEA/ USP.

Are these the sole impacts of the sector? Instituto Escolhas decided to face this debate and calculated, in an unprecedented study recently released, the amount of funds received by the bovine meat chain, carbon emissions and water consumption in ten years.

The figures reveal a highly subsidized chain, which public contributions totaled R$ 123 billion between 2008 and 2017, 79% of the amount collected by the chain in the period. If it is true that the countries that compete with the Brazilian product also strongly subsidize the sector, it is important that the population knows that it is their money that guarantees the competitiveness of the product at the international level and the economic gains of the agents that integrate the chain. What else can the taxpayer demand from the chain in exchange for the incentives granted?

The carbon footprint, which measures greenhouse gas emissions, pointed out worrying numbers and directly associated with deforestation. The average in Brazil for the period from 2008 to 2017 was 78 kg of CO2e per kilogram of meat. If we look at the Amazonian states that are under pressure from the agricultural frontier, where there is conversion of native forest into pasture, this value rises to 782 kg of CO2e /kg of meat in Roraima, 713 in Amazonas and 296 in Pará. In the states that are part of the Matopiba region, the average of the period also increases significantly, that is 267 kg of CO2e /kg of meat in Piauí, 198 in Maranhão, 195 in Tocantins and 157 in Bahia in the same 10 years. These two regions are the ones with the highest footprints in Brazil due to the deforestation. Once deforestation is removed from the account, these numbers drop exponentially. For example, Roraima’s carbon footprint drops to 30 kg of CO2e/kg of meat.

Between 2013 and 2017, livestock absorbed 31% of rural credit concessions, according to Bacen’s data (2019). The North and Midwest regions, which have the states with the highest deforestation rates in the period, had the highest share in the total of this credit, respectively 61.8% and 38.5%. Is the Brazilian taxpayer financing deforestation?

The costs pointed out by the study reinforce the importance of demanding better results from the sector, either due the amount of funds it receives or due to the environmental impacts it causes. Livestock has all the conditions to produce sustainably, without deforesting and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. There is no lack of land, technique or money. Initiatives such as the Low Carbon Agriculture Program (ABC) show significant results in this respect. The question we need to know is when our governing authorities will make the ABC Program the next “Safra Plan”.

Jaqueline Ferreira, PhD., Project Manager of instituto Escolhas.

Photo: Anna Carolina Negri