Amazon Wildfire Crisis Linked to Meat Consumption: ‘These Forests Are Not Burned By Accident’

Maria Pasquini

Amid widespread claims that many of the Amazon rainforest fires were started by cattle farmers and ranchers, many are condemning Brazil, and its leader, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil is currently the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, with the country’s cattle herd increasing by 56 percent between 1990 and 2018.

Last year, the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef, which generated $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association.

Along with an increased demand for beef, the country has also experienced a significant increase in deforestation. According to recent data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the forest lost 870 square miles of vegetation in July alone, which is between three and five times the amount lost in the same month during the past four years, the Associated Press reported.

“These forests are not burned by accident, they are made to clear land for cattle grazing and soy production,” Daniel Brindis, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace, tells PEOPLE. “The companies who profit off of these commodities are based in the U.S. We encourage consumers to demand companies not destroy the forests. There is enough land out there.”

Ana Folhadella, communications and development manager of the Amazon Conservation Association, also tells PEOPLE that the neighboring country of Bolivia has lost “an estimated 1 million acres” of land in the fires.

Wildfires in Bolivia | STR/AFP/Getty

RELATED: Amazon Rainforest Fires Threaten Climate Change Efforts — What’s at Stake for the Planet

The trend in meat production has the support of President Bolsonaro, who has condemned deforestation warnings that could interfere with trade negotiations. Activists have noted that the surge in fires began when he took office in January.

Unfortunately for environmentalists, the responsibility for putting out the fires ultimately rests in the government’s hands.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to do that,” Moira Birss, a finance campaign director of Amazon Watch, tells PEOPLE. “The Brazilian government has been promoting the bulldozing of the Amazon and it is unlikely they will take urgent steps to put out the fires.”

Birss went on to add that she believes “international pressure” could shame his administration “into doing something for the forest.”

“It’s unfortunate it took these massive fires in the Amazon to draw attention to the danger the Amazon is in. The danger has increased since Bolsonaro took office, and these companies are making it possible for him to do deforestation,” she says. “If no one was buying these products or investing in these companies doing this agribusiness, there would not be a market.”

Burning Amazon rainforest | Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso/AP/Shutterstock
Damage from Amazon fires | ROGERIO FLORENTINO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As the devastating fires continue to destroy the forests, several countries have publicly moved to take a stand against Brazil.

On Friday, Finland’s finance ministry released a statement calling for the European Union to “urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports,” according to Reuters.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has also spoken about the possibility of blocking a free trade deal, which will lift a 20 percent tax on imports of beef to the European Union, CNN reported. The trade agreement, which was agreed upon in June, has yet to be implemented.

RELATED: Some of the Most Devastating Photos from the Amazon Rainforest Fires

Calling the fires an “international crisis,” French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Bolsonaro of lying about his position regarding climate change.

Macron spoke out against the right-wing leader on Thursday, tweeting, “Our house is burning. Literally.”

“The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis,” he added. “Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!”

A statement from the president’s office on Friday added that Macron “can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him” as “the decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate,” according to USA Today.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said the fires should be added to the agenda, according to The New York Times

Bolsonaro, who previously suggested the blazes could have been set by nongovernmental organizations in an attempt to make him look bad, went on to fire back on social media.

“I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem,” he wrote on Twitter, USA Today reported.

Amid the mounting pressure, Bolsonaro signaled on Friday that he’s considering sending the country’s army to fight the fires, NPR reported.