The True Cost of Cheap Meat
“If you eat meat, you probably buy products made by one Brazilian company. A company with such influence it can impact climate change, openly admit to having bribed more than 1,000 politicians, and continue to grow despite scandal after scandal. And you’ve probably never heard of it.
“Welcome to a world where meat is the new hot commodity, controlled by just a handful of gigantic firms which together wield unprecedented control over global food production. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been investigating the biggest of all: JBS, a Brazilian company which slaughters a staggering 13 million animals every single day and has annual revenue of $50bn.”
A cloud of scandals hangs over JBS and its shadowy network of subsidiaries, yet the company continues to expand. In the last decade it became the world’s biggest producer and exporter of meat with facilities in Australia and across the Americas, swallowing up among others the big US company Pilgrim’s Pride and Northern Ireland’s poultry firm Moy Park. Since the takeover, JBS’s investment in its Moy Park arm of the business enabled construction of hundreds more chicken farms in the UK which now supply nearly a third of all chicken eaten here in Britain.
JBS in numbers
- 13.6 million poultry birds slaughtered per day
- 116,000 pigs slaughtered per day
- 77,000 cattle slaughtered per day
- $50 billion – amount of annual revenues
- 900,000 – number of employees across the world
- 150 – number of countries it supplies with meat
- $250 million – amount company paid out in bribes in 2017
- 1,829 – number of candidates across Brazil’s political spectrum the company admits to having bribed
- $3.2 billion – amount JBS was fined for bribery, one of the biggest fines in global corporate history
Scandal after JBS scandal. Take your pick –
- Wholesale bribery and corruption – among many other scandals over the years, revelations from a 2014 investigation actually toppled the Brazilian government. Right now the company is under investigation for colluding with politicians and public servants to divert resources from a government-owned bank
- Dirty meat – rotting beef, falsified export documents, failure to inspect meat plants, chickens contaminated with salmonella (a million of them in the UK)
- Slave labour – workers forced to live in degrading conditions without adequate shelter, toilets or clean water
- Animal cruelty – chickens punched and beaten with iron rods, piglets beaten and their testicles ripped off without anaesthetic
- Illegal Amazonian deforestation – fined $7.7 million in 2017
- Being part of a price-fixing cartel – now driving down prices paid to farmers for their meat, and now driving up their own wholesale prices by colluding with other major poultry producers to reduce the supply of chicken
And don’t imagine it couldn’t happen here in the UK. The Moy Park arm of JBS doesn’t bear close scrutiny either.
Moy Park UK in numbers
- More than £1 million – total of fines paid since 2015 for subjecting chickens to “unnecessary pain and distress”, failure to pay workers the minimum wage, and unsafe work practices
- 8 million in 2 years – number of birds that never reach the market, wasted, thrown away as diseased, emaciated, injured with fractures and dislocations, dead before reaching the slaughterhouse, or contaminated
- 6 million – number of birds slaughtered per week
- £1.6 billion – company turnover in 2017
In June this year three Moy Park farms in Lincolnshire were secretly filmed uncovering “horrifying conditions”, chickens lame, struggling to breath and surrounded by dead birds. Moy Park supplies most major UK supermarkets, as well as McDonald’s and KFC.
It took a team of seven dedicated investigative journalists to lift the lid on the unsavoury modus operandi of the JBS matrix. They deserve our thanks for all the hard (and possibly dangerous) work they put into producing this exposé of meat production’s dark and dirty underbelly. Do take a few minutes to read it in full.
“JBS began as a local butcher’s shop; now its beef travels thousands of miles from Brazil to UK supermarkets. That journey clouds the link between farm and plate and makes it almost impossible for the average consumer to understand where their food comes from — and how big a price the planet is paying the price for their cheap meat.”
Let’s not allow their hard work to be in vain. The only way we can be certain we’re not funding the shady JBS brothers’ luxury yachts and lamborghinis, lavish parties and sumptuous mansions – and much much more importantly that we’re not complicit in deforestation, animal cruelty, human rights abuse, wholesale corruption, and the supply of contaminated products – is to take the meat off our plates. The cause of justice, the animals and the planet will thank us.
Here are 10 easy ways to make a change.
9th August 2019 MRSA on Northern Ireland’s farms
JBS: Brazilian butchers take over the world A special investigation from Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal and Lucy Michaels in London, Dominic Phillips, André Campos and Diego Junqueira in Sao Paulo and Claire Smyth in Belfast