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How much forest we destroy eating hamburgers, according to Mighty Earth

What’s hidden behind a simple hamburger? Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of forest in Brazil and Bolivia that don’t exist anymore, just to start.

The fast food restaurant chain Burger King buys soy that destroys forests in South America to feed cows and pigs with which it produces the hamburgers it sells all over the world. These soy plantations are enormous and ever-expanding and they damage tropical forests, including the Amazon, in Brazil and Bolivia. Mighty Earth, the organisation that launches international campaigns to protect the environment, revealed it in a report called The ultimate mistery meat that shows the connection between hamburgers that are bought and eaten at Burger King and other fast food chains and the destruction of virgin forests that exacerbates the phenomenon of global warming.


Using drone and satellite photographs and field research, the report shows the methods – from bulldozers to arsons – that suppliers such as Cargill and Bunge employ to clear forests in order to make room for soy plantations. Forest destruction mainly occurs in the Bolivian low-lying plains and the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiverse area in the tropical savannah – actually, the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world.

The journey of soy, from Cargill to Burger King

“The connections are quite clear. Bunge and Cargill supply Burger King and other big meat sellers with grain. McDonald’s, Subway and KFC are not perfect but they’re doing a hell of a lot more to protect the forests”, said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. “ If Burger King does not respond immediately to people who want to know where their food comes from, then people should shop elsewhere”.

deforestation brazil
Deforestation in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon over the years (1984, 2000, 2016).

7,989 square kilometres (about 800,000 hectares) of land were clear-cut in Brazil last year, 29 percent more than in 2015 when 6,207 square kilometres were deforested. The same happened in Bolivia, which saw 3,508 square kilometres of forest disappear in 2016, a lot more than the 2,700 square kilometres burnt on average in the ’00s. Obviously, soy isn’t the only product linked to this catastrophe. Food industries in general control the fate of South American forests.

What Burger King can do for the Amazon

Burger King, in particular, can do much better according to Mighty Earth’s report. The chain has more than 15,000 restaurants scattered in about 100 countries and was acquired by the Brazilian multibillion-dollar investment firm 3G Capital in 2010 for 3.8 billion dollars (about 3.6 billion euros). 3G Capital, among other things, owns Kraft Heinz Company that produces ketchup, cheese and other food products used by fast food restaurants, with an annual turnover of about 10 billion dollars. For this reason, it’s crucial that Burger King uses its influence in a positive way putting pressure on the company to which it belongs and on suppliers like Cargill, to encourage them to adopt policies against deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources coming from the lungs of the Planet. Cargill itself – that employs more than 15,000 farmers in soy plantations – wanted to have its say and told the British daily the Guardian, which published a piece of news on the report, that it wants to half its impact on forests between 2020 and 2030.

soy harvest brazil
Agricultural machinery harvesting soy in Mato Grosso, Brazil © Paulo Fridman/Corbis via Getty Images

The organization Mighty Earth decided to launch a petition against the “kings of deforestation” and advance a moratorium on soy plantation expansion to which all Latin American countries must adhere “to support sustainable agricultural expansion”.

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