Activism - People Power

Supermarkets deforesting the Amazon

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Healthy planet

There are many reasons why people don’t protest – job, family, police, arrest – now add to the list, global pandemic. But we can’t let a virus stop our democratic right to freedom of speech, and more importantly, stop holding companies to account when they misbehave – as Tesco know all too well. Over the last couple of months Greenpeace has targeted Tesco for its part in the illegal deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

UK supermarkets and fast food companies are fueling deforestation by buying industrial meat and dairy from companies owned by known forest destroyers. JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company, is notorious for its links to forest destruction and has subsidiary companies based in the UK. Meat from JBS-owned companies line Tesco shelves across the UK. That’s not all – Tesco and other UK food retailers have long-standing commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains and yet they are still buying meat reared on South American soya. So its not meat reared in the Amazon, it’s animal food grown in the Amazon which is then sent to feed cattle reared in the UK.

The future of the world’s forests and the stability of the climate depend on us eating less meat and dairy. This is why I joined Greenpeace in calling on Tesco to halve the amount of meat and dairy it sells by 2025, replacing it with plant-based food that doesn’t cost the earth. One immediate step they must take towards this is to drop all forest destroyers from their supply chains (Moy Park and Tulip both JBS-owned companies). By forcing food companies to end the production of industrial meat, forests would be better protected, helping to avoid climate breakdown, meaning we could all look forward to a healthier, safer future for ourselves and for future generations.

The campaign actions were split into three phases. Phase 1 had the highest risk of police arrest. Whilst Tesco stores were closed, local activists were asked to paste a huge poster montage onto the store’s external windows. They were made of several A3 posters that when put together delivered a clear message to ‘Tesco stop selling industrial meat lined to forest deforestation’. Small groups of local activists around the UK gathered in the middle of the night, dressed in black and wearing high-vis so to any eagle-eyed passers-by, they look like an official service person with granted authority to be updating the window – like road work men. Everyone had a role – paste the window, unfurl the posters, keep watch, look after the bags – the operational instructions from Greenpeace on how to execute the action are very detailed – everyone knows what to do. The posters were pasted up in a matter of minutes. The group scampered and were no doubt tucked up in bed not long after. No suspicion would be raised until the next morning when Tesco staff saw the posters. Not sure how long it took them to notice but certainly the ones by me had been removed by mid-morning. It didn’t matter though because the campaign was being fired up on social media as groups posted images of the poster pasted windows all around the UK with #TescoUproar #SavetheAmazon

Given the initial success Greenpeace gave the option to go out and target different stores. Locally, a second team was formed. Different activists, same process – allocate roles, get in and out as quickly as possible. The posters went up and looked great, perfect for a quick selfie, but whilst trying to get the best shot, a police car pulled up. They took the usual details – name, address, DOB – as an activist you’re advised to give this information, but nothing more. The activists were told that if they removed the posters and cleaned the paste off the windows then they could leave with no further follow-up – of course, this is what they did.

The next two phases of the campaign were totally lawful and therefore easier for more activist to take part. To coincide and promote the release of Greenpeace’s latest animation ‘There’s a Monster in my Kitchen’ – the sequel to last year’s corker ‘Rang-Tan’ – activists would use cut-outs of the main characters, a little boy and jaguar, to deliver the message to Tesco. Local groups were asked to individually visit a local Tesco and take a picture of the characters ‘visiting the store’. These images were uploaded to social media, geo-tagging the store, with the campaign message and #TescoUproar. My group visited over 20 stores throughout the last two weeks of November and sent a press release to local media with our best photos.

With over 100,000 signatures on the Greenpeace petition, Tesco responded with a Twitter post mitigating its involvement with claims of deforestation free soy but it’s all really smoke and mirrors. This Greenpeace article explains how and why Tesco, and other supermarkets, have absolutely no control over supply chains. It’s a wonder this is legal given the immense danger facing the Amazon rainforest. The figures are upsetting. The BBC reported that this year deforestation of the Amazon has increased to its highest level since 2008 due to the current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro accelerating agricultural and mining activities, as well as diluting laws that would normally fine and arrest farmers and loggers for breaking environmental laws, laws created to protect the forest and the one million indigenous people that call it home.

But why is it so important? Forests are ‘carbon sinks’ because of a trees ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in its trunk. But when that tree is cut down or burnt, all the carbon it sucked out of the atmosphere is released back into the atmosphere so the damage then becomes two fold – not only is all the original carbon released, but that tree can’t absorb future carbon. That’s why there’s lots of noise about planting trees to ‘offset’ carbon emissions. Companies think they can mitigate, or cancel-out, the carbon release through things like manufacturing and agriculture, by planting more trees. But the trees being planted are small, and unable to absorb the amount of carbon we so desperately need after years of industrialised polluting.

So what can we do? We can reduce or remove meat from our diets. Unlike even three years ago, there are so many more meat alternative products available now, so if you have a food idea that fits the bill, get it to market quickly and cash-in. The plant-based meat market is estimated to double in size by 2025. Even fast food places I never thought I’d see a vegetarian option, let alone a vegan option, have whole sections of their menus calling out meat-free options.

Living meat-free is super easy, cheap, and tasty, it’s crazy not to at least give it a go, especially now you understand the devastating impact meat has on our planet.


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