Our environment is a delicately balanced ecosystem that relies on a multitude of moving parts, parts none of us fully understand. Remove one aspect, one creature, plant or nutrient, and the entire structure collapses in on itself. What has slowly taken thousands and even millions of years to adjust to its surroundings can’t compete in the intense, ever-shifting human landscape.
Unfortunately, we only come to understand the full impact of a lot of these changes once they take place. Coral bleaching is one such example. Until the last few decades, the changes in our ocean’s temperature have been minuscule, with not enough data to formulate any long-term conclusions. But recent studies have shown that coral has a complex chemical relationship with surrounding algae, which gives the reefs their incredible colours and form a nutritious food source for the marine life that lives around them. For more insights into the effect of climate change and human disruption in our oceans, read our "The Ocean's Days Are Numbered" climate column article.
These reefs rely on a strict balance. When the ocean is too warm, the coral ‘stresses out’, rejecting the life-giving algae in an attempt at self-preservation. Without this algae, the reefs quickly die, leaving ghostly white graveyards devoid of life. Without these reefs, we risk worsening storms and erosion, our own sources of food and medicine and the death of millions of species of marine life, the full impact of which we can’t even guess.
For decades now, another part of our world has also been undergoing an attack. The Amazon rainforest often referred to as the ‘lungs of the world’, is responsible for much of the world’s oxygen and carbon lifecycles. This 6.7 million km2 spans across Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana and is home to many unique forms of life.
To date, however, 24% of this amazing rainforest has been destroyed, hitting a 15-year high this year. The main culprit — is food destined for livestock. Which is where the chickens in this story come in.
The cultivated Amazonian land is usually stripped and turned into commercial farms, introducing nitrates which are introduced into the soil to accelerate crop growth. These farming practices are extremely wasteful, intensely farming the soil to exhaustion, causing more land to be stripped in preparation for more farming.
A new investigation has recently shown that much of this land is used to grow corn and soya beans which are fed to chickens in the UK, ending up in supermarkets and restaurants around the country. The blame isn’t entirely on the UK, however, as the company responsible for the food processing is JBS, an American wholesaler. They’ve been linked to deforestation in not just the Amazon but the Cerrado and vast areas of grassland, swamps and savannahs.
As the world’s biggest meat firm and exporter of beef, pork and chicken from Brazil across the globe, JBS are responsible for a lot of the meat that eventually ends up on humans dinner plates. JBS is also guilty of intensive breeding of crops in order to feed their large export of chickens.
What’s perhaps even more terrifying is that much of this farming has been undertaken illegally, with little intervention from the Brazilian government. In Mato Grosso, nearly 100 hectares of land were illegally deforested and sold to JBS. Which begs the question — how can international trade organisations enforce sustainability rules when the suppliers wantonly commit illegal farming practices?
JBS has come out claiming that “100% of its grain procurement contracts meet social-environmental criteria in all Brazilian biomes”.* Whether they were ignorant of the illegal nature of the agricultural ground or not is unclear.
So what’s the solution to all this? Aside from cutting out meat consumption, buying local organic, pasture-raised meats not associated with your meat. The key is to research the companies you’re buying from. Each has its own confusing definition of ‘eco-friendly’, just as ‘free-range’ doesn’t necessarily mean the barn free range. We recommend reading the fine print and doing some background research on who you’re buying from. Try downloading the How Good app from the app store to access over 200,000 different food products with over 60 sustainability indicators.
The best thing you can do for your gut, and your lifestyle, is to find brands that rely on a sustainable lifecycle. While we don’t sell food products (yet), our Eartha yoga mats are made from natural FSC Certified cork, grown mostly in Asia around Vietnam and Portugal. The cork is harvested yearly from trees that naturally shed their cork skin. No more is taken than can be replaced, and the trees regrow their cork over time. While we continue developing new sustainable products, you can support our cause and help us grow by buying your own Eartha yoga mat here. For every yoga mat we sell, we also plant a native tree and remove 1kg of plastic from our oceans.
Ideally, all farming should share this practice. But big business continues to cut corners relying on deforested land that quickly becomes useless thanks to intensive farming. Behind every food chain sit even larger wholesalers responsible for the distribution of livestock and feed. What we put on our plates is crucial for the survival of the environment, as much as what we burn in our cars, wear on our bodies or lay on our floors.
- Downie, Andrew, Wasley, Andrew. “Chicken in British supermarkets ‘linked to deforested Amazon’” on The Guardian. Date Published: 6th October, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3SMqt3n.
- Rolls, Lisa. “Why are coral reefs dying?” on UN Environmental Programme. Date Published: 12th November, 2021. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3EoDOun.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.