Brazil suffered the highest annual loss of primary forest – 1,108,800 hectares – in the world. That’s the equivalent of three football pitches of rainforest being destroyed every minute.
Our report ‘Big meat. Big bucks. Bigger harm’ reveals Barclays, HSBC and Santander, are funding at least 34 beef and soy companies which are at high risk of contributing to illegal and legal deforestation in Brazil.
We found the support given by these banks, pension funds and insurers totals a massive US$98bn (£69bn) in products including loans, shareholdings, bondholdings and underwritings.
This is truly shocking when you consider the latest deforestation data from December 2020. Brazil suffered the highest annual loss of primary forest – 1,108,800 hectares – in the world. That’s the equivalent of three football pitches of rainforest being destroyed every minute.
What does deforestation have to do with farm animal cruelty?
Most of us understand that deforestation has significant environmental impacts for the planet - from greenhouse gas emissions to biodiversity loss - but did you also know that the main driver for deforestation is the world’s demand for meat?
Both legal and illegal deforestation are carried out to create space to raise cattle for beef or for the production of soy, most of which is used for animal feed for factory farmed chickens, pigs and cows.
Factory farms squash large numbers of animals into stressful, barren sheds where they have no access to the outdoors or natural light. They are bred to grow bigger and faster - often putting unnecessary strain on their bodies – with many kept in cages for their whole lives. Factory farming also uses antibiotics to keep animals disease free in these highly stressful conditions. This overuse of antibiotics is contributing to the rise of superbugs – antibiotic resistance – which already kills around 700,000 people annually
How does deforestation in Brazil impact UK consumers?
While the Brazilian rainforest might seem very far from the UK, our report shows that many UK consumers could be linked with illegal deforestation in some way, either through our banking – the institutions we hold our current accounts, savings accounts, insurance or pensions with - or our shopping. As at least 17% of beef exports and 20% of soy exports entering Europe from the Amazon and Cerrado may have come from land that has been deforested. UK consumers may also unknowingly be buying products from companies that are destroying the Brazilian rainforest.
Are the financial institutions doing anything to stop this?
Although some financial institutions have introduced animal welfare and anti-deforestation commitments, most are sadly weak. Where policies exist, there are gaps with enforcing and reporting on them, even when their links with deforestation are obvious. Such companies still receive support from European banks, pension funds and insurers.
It is well known that JBS – the world’s largest meat processor – has failed to guarantee its beef is deforestation free. Banks like Barclays and HSBC that invest in the company are at risk of investing in deforestation.
What do we want banks to do?
We want banks and investors to help change the world’s food system to stop deforestation and change the way we feed and treat farm animals by only investing money in companies who operate in an ethical and environmentally positive way.
We want financial institutions to insist their clients adopt meaningful and specific high animal welfare and deforestation policies and ensure they are properly put in place and followed at all stages. They must support those companies that are strong on animal welfare and moving towards plant-based foods. And when companies continue to fail to meet the standards, they should refuse to do business with them.
Banks pension funds and insurers are key in protecting our planet, animals and people. They can lead the way in changing the global food system and stopping the destruction of the Amazon and Cerrado for good.
What can I do?
As consumers we have the power to demand change, through where we bank and what we eat.
We need you to help us move the world’s banks to adopt strong and meaningful policies that protect animals and the environment.
You can do this in two ways:
by demanding your bank or pension provider make changes to how they invest your money
by switching to a bank or pension provider that has good investment policies
It can be difficult to know who to bank with as ethical investment doesn’t stop with animal welfare and the Brazilian rainforest. Many people will also be concerned over investment into fossil fuels, weapons and many other areas.
You can ask your bank or pension provider the following questions;
Do you have any sustainable and responsible investment practices?
Do you report on the implementation of these policies?
Do you have clear traceable deforestation policies?
Do you have animal welfare policies?
Do you recognise there is a climate emergency, and if so, what actions are you taking and do you align with the Paris agreement or have you committed to become Net Zero?
Do you invest in fossil fuels, coal power, mining, arctic drilling, tar sandsor fracking?
Do you invest in arms or military activities?
If they don’t have policies, or indeed answers to your questions, you can demand they change or switch to a bank or pension provider who can give you good answers to these questions.
You may be wondering where building societies fall into all of this. Unlike banks, building societies are ‘owned’ by their customers which means customers have a say as to what building societies invest in, and these are often community-focused activities. That said, building societies can become banks so it’s still worth asking what their investment policies are.
Eat more plant-based foods
Changing our attitudes to eating meat is also vital to protect the planet, our health and animal welfare.
The demand for cheap meat, dairy and eggs has led to factory farming becoming normal and raises demand for crops like soya for animal feed leading to deforestation and the suffering of billions of animals in factory farms every year.
By eating less meat, dairy and eggs, and by buying the highest welfare standard you can when you do, you can show companies and banks that consumers are demanding a more sustainable and higher welfare food system.
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