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Senate hearing covers cattle supply chains and deforestation of the Amazon

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On June 22, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Director Emeritus Leo McDonnell testified on behalf of U.S. cattle producers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing examining cattle supply chains and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

The Senate hearing focused on a multinational meat producer, clear-cutting and burning down the Amazon to create ranch land and undercutting American ranchers who operate by international trade rules.

Additional witnesses testifying at the hearing were JBS Chief Sustainability Officer Jason Weller, Environmental Investigation Agency Manager of Commodities Policy Rick Jacobsen and Center for Strategic and International Studies Dr. Ryan Berg.

Cattle supply chains and Amazon deforestation

The issue of deforestation in the Amazon is becoming an environmental catastrophe, and the problem has been the focus of a two-year investigation by the Senate Finance Committee. 

“The Senate Finance Committee has a broad jurisdiction over trade and is committed to the equality of American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” stated Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in his opening statement. 

Wyden continued, “Foreign and local governments and international anti-corruption groups have all tried to stop the deforestation, and yet, cattle from the direct result of deforestation continues to enter the global supply chains through major beef producers – among those are JBS.”

Weller testified, “Simply blocking farms because of deforestation concerns is not enough, because these blocked farms will continue to produce cattle and other ag commodities. They will find a way to enter regional and global supply chains.”

“JBS continues to operate a cattle shell game, known as cattle laundering. Independent investigators found JBS laundered thousands of head of cattle between 2018-20, while JBS took steps to hide the truth by misrepresenting data,” Wyden explained. 

However, Weller stated, “JBS had a zero-tolerance policy for sourcing its cattle from producers who hide the origin of their cattle, and the organization plans to ensure zero deforestation from indirect suppliers by 2025.”

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), ranking member of the committee, addressed Brazil’s strong laws against deforestation but lack of enforcement which leads to “illegal land-grabbing activities” in the Amazon. 

“The bottom line here is American ranchers are not getting a fair shake. Ranchers are forced to compete in a rigged game against corporate giants that get away with flouting the rules,” Wyden concluded. 

Growth of Brazil beef trade impacts U.S. cattle industry

Historically, the U.S. and Australia have been leaders in global beef exports, but in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Brazil surpassed both countries.

Data from the USDA states the U.S. cattle herd has shrunk since 1970, and in 2020, the U.S. was among the top four nations importing beef from Brazil.

Testimony from Jacobsen stated, “The U.S. has become the second largest buyer of imported fresh and frozen beef from Brazil, totaling over $1 billion in beef products coming from slaughterhouses in the Amazon region where cattle are sourced on illegally deforested land since the ban on Brazilian beef was lifted in 2020.”

Jacobsen added, “The U.S. market should not be a destination for illegally produced beef from Brazil which undercuts the livelihoods of law-abiding ranchers in the U.S.”

McDonnell, a Montana rancher representing the USCA at the hearing, criticized JBS for deforestation and the company’s criminal and fraudulent history in Brazil.

He explained, “Major players like JBS have a significant advantage in influencing U.S. cattle markets by manipulating supplies to keep purchasing cost low, plus they get to launder their product to unsuspecting American consumers using the ‘Product of the U.S.’ label.” 

He added, “We’re not competing with them, they are taking the market from us, and the USDA urges members of Congress and the administration to prioritize an investigation into the Brazilian beef supply chain.”

Wyden closed the hearing by stating, “The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, which was introduced with U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), would bring some much-needed transparency and accountability to the cattle market in the U.S.” 

“It’s too easy for big producers to push around the little guys, and our bill is all about leveling the playing field for farmers and ranchers around the country,” said Wyden. 

Wyden expressed pushing for better data collection and information sharing will bring much-needed transparency and accountability to the cattle market in the U.S. and reiterated the committee would be writing legislation to modernize and improve custom systems.   

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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