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Brazil Moves To Cut Amazon Destruction By Ranchers

Date: 15-Dec-09
Country: BRAZIL
Author: Raymond Colitt

Brazil Moves To Cut Amazon Destruction By Ranchers Photo: Paulo Whitaker
Freshly-cut logs from the Amazon rainforest are seen at a sawmill in the village of Ressaca in the state of Para, northern Brazil, August 18, 2005
Photo: Paulo Whitaker

MARABA, Brazil - Brazil took a step forward in protecting the Amazon rainforest on Wednesday, starting satellite surveillance of the cattle ranches that are among the chief culprits in the forest's destruction.

The agriculture ministry will monitor more than 15,000 cattle ranches, many of which were established by clearing forested land, and stop ranchers from selling their cattle if they expand farms further by encroaching upon the rainforest.

"We can now say that Brazil is doing its part," said Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes at the launch of the plan in Para, one of several states in the north of Brazil over which the world's largest rainforest sprawls.

Brazil's efforts to protect the Amazon are under the global spotlight this month as heads of state meet at the climate change conference which began this week in Copenhagen.

Cattle ranching is one of the main causes of deforestation, which accounts for about 75 percent of Brazil's carbon emissions.

The scheme is one of the few measures taken to date by the farming ministry to control ranchers, showing heightened awareness of the link between success in exporting and the foreign consumers' desire for more ecologically sound produce.

A major report in June by environment group Greenpeace on the Brazilian cattle industry's deforestation spurred a rash of pledges by big meat firms to cut ties with suppliers producing on illegally cleared land.

Ranchers who have been identified via the satellite images as illegally claiming forested land to expand their pastures will be unable to obtain a permit enabling them to transport their cattle to slaughterhouses.

Up to now, the government's environment agency, Ibama, has led the battle, confiscating the cattle of ranchers found slashing and burning their way into the forested land, occasionally leading to violent confrontations.

ZERO DEFORESTATION?

Government inspectors are stationed at all legally operating slaughterhouses to examine producers' papers before cattle can be delivered.

But the existence of illegal, unregistered slaughterhouses, which are estimated to process as much as 40 percent of cattle in the world's top beef exporter, are likely to provide a gaping loophole for growers who continue to flout the rules.

Higher profile meat firms who depend on the export market would have little option but to comply, however, given the amount of documentation required between the farm, slaughterhouse and port.

Stephanes, who estimated illegal slaughterhouses handled only 10 percent of cattle, was confident monitoring could cut forest destruction, long a blight on Brazil's image.

"The world is increasingly demanding the ability to trace where its food comes from. This will lead us to zero deforestation," he said, near the monitoring station in Maraba.

The huge satellite dish on its roof will receive data about the 15,000 ranches and the areas around them once a month.

On the edge of Maraba, rancher Jose Miranda Cruz showed the minister and reporters around one of the properties where he raises a huge herd of 120,000 cattle. He seemed ambivalent over deforestation but agreed the scheme would be useful.

"The environmentalists exaggerate a little but we have to do it. The world demands it," said Cruz, as around 100 cows grazed nearby.

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Christian Wiessner)

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