Beef and its co-products

Deforested areas are often used for livestock grazing. This is how the consumption of beef contributes to imported deforestation. In 2021, 75% of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to cattle farming. Three forest biomes are affected by livestock: the Amazon rainforest, the semi-deciduous forests of Cerrado and the dry forests of Gran Chaco.

A cow
Crédits : ©Brina Blum - Licence Unsplash Enlarge image la figure 112
A cow

Image representing a cow

The global market for beef and beef products

Global cattle production is slowly increasing over the long term. In 2022, it is progressing in emerging countries that are facing strong population growth (China or India) and in those that see it as an asset for their trade balance and where slaughter or live trade giants are established (Brazil, Mexico, Colombia). In the major historical producing countries (USA, Canada, Australia), livestock fluctuates with capitalization-decapitalization cycles, which are increasingly linked to drought episodes and less and less to price cycles as was the case in the past. Finally, Europe is the only area in the world that sees its beef production decline in the long term. In 2022, the European Union had only 74.9 million cattle, compared to 79.7 million in 2016.

The challenges of beef in France and Europe

The export flows of Brazilian meat to Europe show that when Brazil entered the world market in the early 2000s, the European Union was the first market for Brazilian beef. It is through this market that exports took off, before being relayed by Russia, then Hong Kong and recently China. While beef production costs in Brazil are half that of France, tariffs and exchange rates limit the competitiveness of Brazilian exports, what becomes less true since the pandemic for the last parameter given the depreciation of the real against the dollar and the euro (Champion et al., 2013).

The European Union (excluding UK) imported more than €1.6 billion of beef in 2019. Mercosur countries are the EU’s leading beef suppliers (nearly €1.2 billion in 2019). In volume terms, Brazil (second only to the United Kingdom) accounts for more than 35% of beef imports into the EU and Argentina for more than 25%.

The four members of Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) supply a quarter of world beef production and account for more than a third of world beef exports. Brazil is by far number one with a growing share of its production exported. Flows to China (and Hong Kong) are becoming increasingly important.

France imports an average of 289,000 tonnes of beef per year over the 2012-2021 period and exports 577,000 tonnes. Domestic production is estimated at 1,440,000 tonnes per year.

The majority of French imports come from other producing countries of the European Union: the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Germany in particular.

The land footprint of beef

The land footprint of the production of leather and meat products from beef imported into France is estimated by looking at the grazing area required for the cattle used for this production. The average grazing area to satisfy French beef imports over the 2012-2021 period is estimated at 174,000 hectares.

French imports of beef leather

Leather production, a co-production of beef production, also has an indirect impact on forests. Animals used for leather production are primarily raised for meat and milk. Nearly 65% of the leather used worldwide is of bovine origin.

Leather is mainly imported in the form of footwear (42 %), hides and skins, raw, of cattle (13 %). The remainder (45%) is in the form of leather uppers, leather handbags, tanned leather, suitcases, clothing, gloves…

France imports an average of 238,000 tonnes of beef leather per year over the 2012-2021 period, and exports 267,000 tonnes. French production is estimated at 138,000 tonnes per year over the same period.

French imports of leather come mainly from European countries. These countries are often both producers and importers of leather, sometimes with a processing activity. The top three countries exporting leather directly to France are Italy (18%), Spain (10%) and China (8%).

The footprint of beef leather

76,000 hectares of pasture required for French imports of leather over the period 2012-2021.

The sustainable beef sector

In Brazil, to combat deforestation, a first objective was to bring all farms into legality by a system of mapping the boundaries of exploitation and areas in forests. There is also the "Terme d’ajustement de conduite" (Tac), a voluntary agreement signed between these private operators and the Ministry of Justice. This Tac leads companies to set up information systems, where each supplier is listed by its CAR number. Before each transaction, the buyer checks whether no illegal deforestation has been confirmed at his supplier’s premises, whether no violation of the labour code has been observed and whether his exploitation is not located in a protected area. Other initiatives and standards for zero deforestation in livestock farming exist such as the Xingú Meat Initiative, the Novo Campo initiative or that of Imaflora - Instituto de Manejo e Certificação Florestal e Agrícola - one of the eight founding NGOs of the Rain Forest Alliance network.

289 000
beef imported by France each year

France’s land footprint is due to its imports of beef

tropical deforestation is the consequence of cattle farming

Sources :

  • Institut de l’élevage (IDELE)
  • International People’s Agroecology Movements (IPAM)
  • Confédération Nationale de l’Elevage (CNE)
  • SDES : Importations françaises de matières premières visées par la Stratégie nationale de lutte contre la déforestation importée entre 2012-2021 - Vers une empreinte terre de la France (Décembre 2023)