witness statement

name: George Monbiot
section: Environment
for: The Defence
experience: Writer, broadcaster anad academic


The witness makes McDonald's complicity clear, cattle ranchiing and soya bean production are the two major causes of forest depletion in the Amazon region; McDonald's, by buying beef reared on this feed, are thus encouraging further clearances in Amazonia, and therefore play a major part in this process.


I am a writer, broadcaster and academic, currently Visiting Fellow of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding, Green College, Oxford. I was an Open Scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford, where I studied Zoology. On graduating I joined the BBCs Natural History Unit as a radio producer, making natural history and environmental programmes. I left the Natural History Unit to work briefly as a current affairs producer and presenter for the BBC's World Service, before leaving the BBC to research and write my first book.

My second, Amazon Watershed, is of relevance to this case. I spent approximately two years in Brazil, over the course of seven journeys (1989-92), investigating the causes of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The book with the Sir Peter Kent Award for Conservation Writing. On reading it, the President of Brazil promised to change some of his governments policies in the Amazon.

Full cv: Available for this witness

full statement:





Cattle ranching has been and probably remains the greatest cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It is both a primary and a secondary cause of deforestation: some forest is cleared for cattle ranching when ranchers move in as the first arrivals on a new frontier, some is cleared when ranchers complete the deforestation begun by timber cutters or colonists. Cattle ranching has a considerable impact on the regions ecology, on its soil and on its people.

The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse region on earth. It could contain as many as six million insect species and 10,000 species of trees. In any hectare of forest there may be as many as 250 tree species, around thirty times the maximum one could expect to find in British woods. Clearing this land for cattle pasture results in the elimination of virtually all the ecosystem's biodiversity and its replacement with a few, often exotic species of plants and accompanying fauna. If the ranchland is swiftly abandoned, the forest will return, but it is typically less biodiverse than the forest which the ranchers cut. if the ranchland Is resuscitated before abandonment it will take many years to revert to forest, and that forest is likely to be composed of just one or a few species of trees.

Deforestation for ranching is also likely to have regional and possibly global effects, both in terms of carbon balance and hydrological cycles.

A further aspect is the clearance of cerrado forest in states such as Mato Grosso for soya beans, much of which goes to feed cattle in Brazil, the United States and Europe. The cerrado is also highly diverse, and Its clearance leads to significant losses of biodiversity.

Cattle ranching outside the Amazon is the principal reason for the movement of peasants into the Amazon. This is because so much land has been taken over by cattle ranchers elsewhere in Brazil that the forests are the only place available for peasant agriculture. Land concentration in Brazil is extreme, and most of the largest properties take the form of cattle ranches. It is my opinion, as well as that of many environmentalists and some government ministers in Brazil, that the only means of stopping the flow of colonists to the Amazon and the destruction of the forests they cause there Is a massive programme of agrarian reform, with ranchland outside the Amazon being redistributed for more productive peasant agriculture.

Some of the land that ranchers have seized belongs, according to Brazilian law, to the indigenous inhabitants of the forest, the Indians. In many Indian reserves, ranchers have taken over large tracts of land. This has several deleterious effects: many Indian communities depend upon the plants and animals of the forest for subsistence, and are deprived of their livelihoods when the trees are cut. Considerable numbers of Amazon Indians die each year of diseases introduced by outsiders, some of whom are ranchers Invading their lands. Some have been shot by ranchers' employees.


The statement by David Rose shows that McDonalds has used beef produced on rainforest land cleared as recently as ten years ago (up to 1988) and 25 years ago (1989-1993). This practice has the following environmental and social impacts:

  • 1. Maintaining ex-rainforest land as cattle pasture would prevent the regrowth of forest on that land. This will have implications for biodiversity, the sequestering of carbon and hydrological cycles.

  • 2. McDonalds' use of this land means that it is not available to other users, be they small farmers or other ranchers. This is likely to result in the clearance of further rainforest by these people.

  • 3. McDonalds' tenure of this land is likely to have contributed to the continued imbalance in land ownership prevailing in all Central and South American nations.

Nearly all the ranchland in Brazil previously belonged either to Indians or to peasants; who were displaced either by force or by economic change designed to favour large landowners. Since colonization, ranch owners have been a vociferous and powerful lobby in Brazil, and government policy has often favoured them above other citizens. Ranches in Brazil employ few people, so the net effect of cattle ranching on Brazilian livelihoods appears to be negative.

Soya production is one of the significant causes of deforestation in Brazil, with both direct and indirect impacts on the forest there.

Directly, significant areas of forest are cleared each year for soya fields. In the south of Brazil, from the late 1960s to the early 198Os, the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana lost the last of their forests to soya production. These forests were of great importance, both in terms of their biodiversity (many of the species found here were found nowhere else) and in terms of their stabilisation of soils, hydrological cycles and local climate. Today the soya frontier is continuing to expand, on the southern fringes of Amazonia, especially in the state of Mato Grosso. Here the cerrado forest has suffered Such severe losses that when a recent ecological project sought to find its centres of biodiversty, the researchers discovered that none persisted. Some less significant intrusions have been made by both soya farmers and settlers following them along the frontier, into the bordering closed canopy forest.

Indirectly, soya plantations have displaced enormous numbers of peasant farmers. The soya farmers have expelled the peasants by a number of means: gunmen have been sent into their villages to drive them away; their houses have been burnt down; titles to their land have been obtained by fraudulent means; the agroindustrialists have monopolised supplies of agricultural credits and funds for infrastructural development. The land of the peasants is ploughed for soya production, destroying the diversity of microhabitats they protected and replacing them with uniform fields.

The peasants are left with two options: to move to the cities or to move to the rainforests. The western Amazonian states of Rondonia and Acre are crowded with peasants driven out of southern Brazil (over 1.5 million arrived in the 1980s) by agroindustrialists, Many I interviewed told me that their land had been taken for soya production, Once in the Amazon they are constrained to try to survive by clearing the forest and planting crops. This has an enormous ecological impact: small farmers are the most intractable of the causes of deforestation in Amazonia.

All the significant soya production enterprises in Brazil use land that was once either forested or in the hands of peasant farmers: there is, therefore, not likely to be any major soya farm in the country that has not had an important ecological impact. Soya in Brazil is produced principally for export, for cattle feed in Europe and the United States. Brazilian soya is an important ingredient in the diet of beef cattle throughout Britain and Europe: Brazil provides approximately one third of Europe's soya needs. The principal exporters of Brazilian soya include Cargill USA, Continental Grain USA, Bunge USA, Dreyfuss France and Toepfer.

If, as I have been informed, it is true that cattle destined for McDonalds in Germany and elsewhere have been fed on soya beans emanating, at certain tirnes of the year, from Brazil, then McDonalds is an inextricable part of the chain that leads to deforestation in Brazil. McDonalds' successful promotion of the hamburger as a desirable and culturally significant food worldwide has led to increased demand for beef in many countries and as a result, an increased demand for Brazilian soya. This has helped soya to become one of Brazil's most profitable growth industries ciri the 1980's and, therefore, helped generate intense pressure for the expansion of soya fields. In these different ways, therefore, it is my opinion that McDonalds is partly responsible for forested clearance, displacement of peasants and the continued cultivation of land that might have reverted to rainforest.

Addendum to George Monbiot's expert witness statement

Cattle ranching in the cerrado regions of Brazil
August 29; 1995

There are two principal reasons for the loss of cerrado habitat in Brazil: soya production and cattle ranching. Soya production has been dealt with in an earlier addendum. This addendum concentrates on the effects of cattle ranching.

I understand there has been some confusion in court about whether or not cerrado is tropical forest. Cerrado has accurately been described as "a complex of vegetation types". It ranges all the way from low dry scrub to dense wet forest. Moreover, the border between cerrado and closed canopy rainforest is extremely complex, with outliers of cerrado extending up to hundreds of miles into the rainforest, and outliers of rainforest extending similarly into the cerrado. Some of the "gallery forest" that runs along rivers penetrating the cerrado would rightly be described as rainforest.

One of the tragedies of cattle ranching in the cerrado is that it has indiscriminately destroyed a huge range of habitats. In clearing the land for ranching, participants have made no distinction between vegetation types. Individual ranches will take in land that was once of savannah type as well as land which could accurately have been described as rainforest.

Cattle ranching in states such as Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais and Goias - some of those in which this very broad complex of vegetation types called cerrado occurs - has had a devastating impact, destroying thousands of square kilo metres of this mixed habitat. Deforested cerrado has been one of the major sources of supply for Brazilian beef.

My attention has been drawn to a map of the four northernmost plants that McDonalds make use of in Brazil. Brazilian beef plants characteristically take cattle from a large hinterland. I am informed that when the Barretos plant supplied McDonalds UK, it took cattle from up to 1000km away. Using this figure as a guideline, I have measured vegetation maps of Brazil and find that radii of 1000km from the two northernmost plants include substantial areas of mixed cerrado both south of and within the area designated in Brazil as Amazonia Legal, including the south of the state of Para. Some of these cerrado areas include significant stands of rainforest. The radii also incorporate significant regions of closed canopy rainforest, much of which has, in this region, been lost to cattle ranching in recent years. If McDonalds is drawing its beef from these areas, it is using ex-rainforest land.

date signed: July 19, 1993
status: Appeared in court
references: Not applicable/ available
exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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