In late July, the crushers and the grain exporters associations here said they were instituting a two-year ban on handling soybeans from recently deforested areas of the Amazon.
Every bite of a Chicken McNugget, the Web site said, was a bite out of the Amazon rainforest. Chicken-suited protesters in front of European fast-food establishments made sure the message reached everyone. McDonald's and others, the protesters said, were responsible for rainforest destruction. Hence the protesters' slogan: The Amazon: We're Trashin' It!
The problem, said the activists, was soybeans. People cleared the rainforest to grow soybeans to sell to crushers. The crushers sold soybean meal to feed manufacturers, who sold the feed, in turn, to poultry producers. And companies like KFC and McDonald's served up rainforest destruction to unwitting European customers.
McDonald's Europe told its suppliers to drop Amazon soy from chicken diets right away. The phones at ADM, Bunge, Cargill and others, no doubt started ringing. Ahead of a deal jointly negotiated with Greenpeace, crushers and exporters launched their own moratorium.
The moratorium bans soybeans grown in the Amazon ecosystem for two years. It only prohibits soybeans from fields first planted after the agreement was issued. Soybeans planted in fields cleared before the deal was struck — even in the Amazon ecosystem — are exempt.
Still, the European poultry industry has to get its soybeans somewhere. Maybe the deal could increase sales of U.S. soybeans while helping lessen pressure to deforest the Amazon.
It seems unlikely that the people in chicken suits explained that Amazon areas in a given watershed already have a compulsory 80% permanent setaside, for example. The law is tough to enforce — the Brazilian government says it uses satellite imaging. There is no answer yet how the current deal will be policed.
Funny how things change. A few years ago, foreign-based activist groups encouraged Europeans to buy Brazilian soybeans over U.S. beans because they were not genetically modified.