The Campaign to Greenwash Factory Farming in the Amazon


A $10 plus million JBS-founded ranching firm backed by McDonald’s and Bain Capital is pitching industrialization of the Brazilian ranching sector as the solution to deforestation. They're hosting international journalists for grounds tours and steak dinners, ensuring their marketing spin gets relayed uncritically all over the media.

climate newsrooms have jumped on a series of pieces profiling “sustainable” intensification practices on properties owned by a company called PECSA, spread across Pará and Mato Grosso at the frontier of deforestation in the Amazon. PECSA (a Portuguese acronym for Sustainable Amazon Cattle Ranching) was cofounded by JBS and ICV Capital Ventures, a Bain-backed nonprofit trading in solutions to Amazon deforestation. It’s headed by former Bain consultant Laurent Micol.

Arcos Dorados, the largest independent McDonald’s franchisee and the company’s effective Latin America branch, is PECSA’s biggest client. Between all its backers, PECSA has raised at least $12 million in capital.

As of 2016 PECSA, operated on 68 of ranches, covering some 10,000 hectares of Amazon. It promises governments all of it is deforested legally and clients that they can have their cake and eat it: more beef and more rainforest – then turn profits on both.

PECSA pitches itself as a sustainability program, helping ranchers in the Amazon to comply with environmental regulations. But the finance sector likes PECSA because its intensification methods boost profits.

Positive coverage of PECSA’s climate-friendly Brazilian beef describes it like this:

  • “Planting and fertilizing a dense, nutritious, fast-growing grass variety
  • Implementing a rotational grazing system
  • Supplementing cattle’s diets with grain
  • Creating a more intensive feedlot-style pasture where the animals spend their final months”

Here’s what that entails without the spin:

  • Clearing native brush to seed introduced grass
  • Installing more fencing, obstructing migration between forest fragments
  • Monocultures
  • Feedlots

Of course, PECSA also stresses the development of soil carbon credit markets to beef up revenue streams from its Brazilian land holdings.

This all might sound bad, but they have a point: there are tradeoffs between intensive and extensive ranching. PECSA's intensive methods, modeled after the United States, use less land and generate less emissions per unit of product. Yet they further degrade the biodiversity of the land they occupy and come at high costs in areas like fertilizer use and animal welfare. The binary between these paths, however, is a false dichotomy. Scaling down the livestock sector can allow us to produce more food with less land through plant-based agriculture. Ecological models calculate that eating just 20 percent less beef could halve global deforestation. In fact, scientists are clear that we have no other choice if we intend to meet our international emissions targets and avert ecological tipping points like the conversion of the Amazon to savanna.

But as long as we fall for their advertising, companies like JBS and McDonald’s can keep laundering Amazon beef through greenwashing schemes like PECSA, widening their profits, and expanding into global markets.

PECSA’s public relations and favorable press portray its methods as a rational approach to curb Amazon deforestation, forging a middle ground in a polarizing debate between intensive and regenerative ranching. That might be the war we perceive in political discourse, but in reality, the stakes are much higher. On the ground, a life-or-death conflict rages between the ranching industry and the Amazon rainforest. It's time to pick a side.