Brazilian Government Shutters Cargill Soy Plant, Port

BELEM, Brazil, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - Brazil's Environmental Agency IBAMA has closed a large soy processing and shipping facility in the Amazon rainforest because it lacks an environmental impact assessment. The facility, built by U.S. commodity giant Cargill, has been controversial since Greenpeace discovered that large stretches of the Brazilian rainforest were being cleared to grow soy.

Greenpeace alleges that Cargill illegally constructed the facility in Santarem, in the northern state of Para and the US$20 million port on the Amazon River. Both will remain closed while Brazilian environmental authorities and the company assess their environmental impact.

A notice posted on the "Restricted Area" sign at the Cargill facility in Santarem, advises that the facility is closed. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"This is an important day for the Amazon rainforest and for its people," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator in Brazil.

"Thanks to the constant efforts of the Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution in Para state, a big step forward has been taken in enforcing the responsible use of natural resources and bringing greater governance in the Amazon," he said.

"We trust that Cargill will respect this decision and conduct a broad environmental impact assessment, which will result in concrete measures to minimize the impacts of its port and soy expansion in the region," Adario said. "In that way, the company will also confirm its commitment to the moratorium on further deforestation for soy planting, announced in Brazil last year."

The shutdown of Cargill's Santarem plant came after a request by the Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution to IBAMA, to "inspect and immediately stop the operations of Cargill port as well as condemn the North American multinational for illegal operation."

Federal Judge Souza Prudent of the Regional Federal Court ordered the complete fulfillment of a decision made in 2000, which suspended all permits issued for Cargill's port in Santarem, which does not comply with the Brazilian laws which demand an environmental impact assessment for such facilities.

In Santarem, Federal Prosecutor Felipe Friz Braga said, "This is a historical decision and it changes the pattern of lack of governance in the region."

Back in 2000 the court granted an injunction that suspended authorization for the functioning of Cargill's port without the approval of an environmental impact assessment.

Cargill presented seven appeals from this injunction over the past seven years, but the company lost each appeal.

Under Brazilian law, the decision that is subject of dispute is not valid while the appeal is being judged. Therefore, even with a contrary decision from the judiciary, Cargill received authorization and constructed the port.

At the time the company requested a license for the port, it did present an environmental control plan, but that is a document used to prevent accidents and does not satisfy the requirement to analyze the environmental impact of Cargill's agricultural activities in the Amazon, according to all the judges who analyzed the issue.

Cargill Grain Terminal on the Amazon River at Santarem, Para (Photo courtesy Woods Hole Research Center)
Greenpeace says its research reveals the devastating impacts of soy cultivation on the world's largest tropical rainforest. In April 2006, the environmental group issued a report, "Eating up the Amazon" which showed how the world-wide demand for soy has led to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

The report documented how soy was shipped from Cargill's Santarem facility to Europe, to provide cheap feed for chicken which is then sold in fast food outlets and supermarkets.

Last May, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise blocked the Cargill port, while activists protested at the facility.

Also in May, Cargill issued a report in which the company said, "We agree with Greenpeace on several fundamental points."

Cargill said it agreed that the Amazon, "one of the last significant rainforest reserves in the world, is internationally significant because of the biodiversity it supports as well as the role it plays in contributing to the stability of our global climate. The integrity of this complex ecosystem needs to be preserved."

The company agreed with Greenpeace that, "The rights of small landholders should be protected, and government-designated indigenous reserves and protected areas should be protected from illegal encroachment. Farmers should comply with Brazilian environmental law, which is among the most rigorous in the world.

Also the company agreed that, "Some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Brazil are being victimized by abusive or degrading labor practices, especially in remote areas of the Amazon. These illegal practices must be eradicated."

But the company said it was "in fundamental disagreement on the best way forward in several key areas."

Greenpeace demanded that Cargill close its export facility at the Port of Santarem and about a dozen grain storage facilities in the transition zone between the grasslands of the Cerrado and the Amazon biome in the state of Mato Grosso.

"We do not believe it is necessary to take such extreme measures to preserve the integrity of the Amazon ecosystem," Cargill said. "Soy occupies less than 0.6 percent of the land in the Amazon biome today, and most of that soy is grown on the fringes of the Amazon biome in the transitional area between the Cerrado and the forest."

"It's important to remember that the Amazon also is home to more than 23 million people," the company said. "It is one of the poorest regions in Brazil and the world, and there is a recognized need for responsible economic and social development. Economic development is the long-term solution to protecting both the Amazon's peoples and the environment: poverty does not do that."

Soy occupies about 25,000 hectares - eight percent - of the open areas in the Santarem region, Cargill pointed out.

"One of the historic challenges in this region has been compliance with Brazil's strict Forest Code," the company said.

In the Santarem region, Cargill is working with the Nature Conservancy, an internationally recognized environmental organization, the Farmers Union of Santarem and the farmers who sell soy to the company's Santarem export facility to identify and implement best management practices for environmental stewardship, Cargill said last May.


The Nature Conservancy is working to achieve responsible soy agriculture in the Amazon. (Photo Benito Guerrero courtesy The Nature Conservancy)
In January 2005, Cargill presented a US$1 million gift to the Nature Conservancy to support "conservation and sustainable agriculture initiatives" in the Brazilian Amazon, in China and in the United States.

"Since 1983, Cargill has funded a range of conservation initiatives with the Conservancy in North America," Warren Staley, chairman and CEO of Cargill said at the time. "This expanded, global relationship represents an entirely new level of our support and will enable us to help champion prudent conservation practices around the world that are simple, actionable and measurable."

Cargill's grant, along with matching funding from the British government, is supporting Conservancy efforts in Brazil's Amazon region to increase awareness and use of agricultural best practices among soya producers and help promote sustainable economic development in a region that is experiencing rapid agricultural development.

The Conservancy has been working with farmers, along with governmental and private sector agricultural partners, to encourage better management practices and conservation opportunities for critical habitat located on private lands.

"The Conservancy has already met with 200 area producers in Brazil's Para state to explain this initiative and generate collective interest in the development of best practices," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy said at the time. "The Cargill partnership effort will help showcase compatible agriculture practices that balance socio-economic and ecological needs."