Division of Economics and Trade, Embassy of Brazil in the U.S
We are pleased to have a seat at this table and get our views across this early. Brazil has amazing biodiversity and hosts six biomes: Amazon, Caatinga, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Pampa, and Pantanal, each with distinct characteristics. Its Amazon River is one of the longest, while its expansive tropical regions are known worldwide. Besides the plant and animal species native to Brazil, the country also produces a variety of minerals. Meanwhile, its ecosystems are undergoing rapid anthropogenic change affecting how humans and animals interact. These factors make Brazil a potential “hotspot” for zoonotic disease emergence.
Brazil is one of the biggest producers and exporters of meat, accounting for roughly 25% of the global market. Cattle alone account for 8.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP). This has placed pressure on the country’s fragile ecosystems, which accounted for an estimated 80% of deforestation, particularly the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado. Since 1990, over 780,000 sq kilometers have been lost to deforestation and roughly 2,000 species of animals.
The consumption of wildlife meat is part of local cultures in some areas of Brazil. Wildlife consumption in these regions often spans a wide sociocultural spectrum, including traditional communities, indigenous peoples, and small rural communities among older generations in lower-income groups and members of the rural migratory communities in urban centers, making hunting and fishing activities an important source of income and a more accessible source of dietary protein. Among traditional societies, wild meat rarely acts as the primary source of animal protein, with 94% of hunters reporting that domestic livestock animals formed the larger share of their family’s diet. For years, rural and riverine communities have relied on hunting and fishing as a subsistence source of protein and, more recently, as a source of income when they sell products to third parties.
The exotic pet trade provides additional demand for native wildlife, which Brazil supplies to domestic and international markets, exporting hundreds for sale in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. While some of these animals are legally traded, others are not. Organizations such as U.S. ARK (feel free to contact the representatives in advance) are the leading destination for exotic pets worldwide. So the blame should be placed on the consumers and the suppliers.
Public markets and open street fairs are ubiquitous in Brazil and a common sales outlet in most cities and towns. At some commercial sites, they sell domestic wild animals and their by-products. In addition to meat and other food products derived from livestock species, it is possible to find legal and illegal sellers of live wild animals. Most species of wild animals in public markets are native to the area. There is also demand for some species of non-local taxa. Meeting such demand requires more extensive supply chains whose transport covers vast distances across the country.
Illegally hunted or captive wild animals might be found alongside other food and artifacts. Normally, they are not always on display but instead shown directly to the customer due to their unlawful status. For instance, in markets in cities of the Northern and Northeastern states, animals are commonly stored in cages or plastic bags in hidden spots. Animals (or their parts) used for Afro-Brazilian religious rituals can also be hidden alongside other religious items or sold in stores for religious practices. Precise data is unknown. Still, law enforcement may confiscate several tons of illegal wild meat per year across the Amazonian states. A study conducted in markets in Santa Cruz do Capibaribe found that some animals sold for medicinal purposes were on lists of endangered species.
Many critics see a direct link between agribusiness profit and environmental degradation in Brazil. Cattle ranches occupy between 75 and 80% of deforested areas of Amazonia. In the last years, this trend has rapidly accelerated. In 2019, an area of forest roughly the size of Lebanon was felled and burned, the largest loss in more than a decade; in 2020, the region lost was even larger. These changes have coincided with a surge in the global demand for beef, driving up Brazilian beef exports by 35% in just three years.
The political landscape has changed with a push towards deregulation, firings, and a reduction in funding for agencies to prevent unauthorized forest clearing. While Brazilian law prohibits raising beef on illegally-cleared forestland, these regulations are impossible to enforce with no effective system to track a herd’s origins. Cattle are frequently moved from illegal pastureland into the legal supply chain.
The livestock industry is a significant interest of political and business groups that lobby for legislation that would further loosen control of deforestation and conservation units and remove protections for indigenous peoples’ lands. Legislative acts aimed at weakening environmental protection accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, despite a surge in illegal deforestation during this period, environmental fines dropped by 72% due to lack of enforcement.
What are you worried about in this draft? The economy in Brazil depends on the ability of humans to use animals, ranging from significant agricultural interests to smaller traders to subsistence hunters. While you certainly are all in favor of animal welfare and do not want another pandemic, you also don’t want to capitulate to the global north and impose its values and interests on the rest of the world. The aim to create Annex 1 is worrisome because it may include many animals hunted, traded, and killed in Brazil. As for Article 3, how are you going to keep all of these species separated in a country as large and complicated as Brazil? You also worry about any language that suggests that Brazil cannot continue to develop its livestock sector. This idea of “buffer zones” between commercial animals and listed species is a problem. And there are many other aspects of the draft that threaten the economic well-being of Brazil. However, you don’t want to seem to care only about economics. But a balance is what you want.
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