The Folly of an Economy Going Against the Environment

From economists it is expected that they are in favour of production at any cost and against environmentalists. But it has to be the opposite. The Brazilian economy will suffer immensely if it continues the deforestation of (among others) the Amazon rainforest.
It is a shot in the foot. Export of Brazilian beef, for example, will face difficulties if the exporters are not guaranteeing the world market that the cattle did not come from deforested areas. The same problem producers will face with supermarkets, as they will require a ‘clean origin’ of the meat. Consumers also are awakening. As a consequence it is irrational, from an economic point of view, to go against the protection of the environment.

The Medida Provisória*) No. 458 (Decree MP 458), which passed Congress is foolish. It permits regularization of the lands for those who illegally invaded the Amazon rainforest. It regularizes illegality.

The confrontation between farmers and environmentalists is completely unreasonable. Even if the matter is discussed only in terms of economy, the environmentalists are right. Farmers celebrate victories that will turn against them in the future. The slaughterhouses will have to prove to supermarkets in Brazil and elsewhere that they did not buy cattle from (illegally) deforested areas.
The world is moving in one direction and Brazil running in the opposite direction with eyes fixed on the past, turning the clock back.

The debate, the proposals in Congress, the approval of MP 458, the mistakes of the government, the complicity of the opposition, show countrywide lack of understanding.
The tragedy is a multi-party action for burning down the Amazon.
Even China starts to change. In the United States, the Bush government is dumped in the trash bin of history. President Barack Obama steers the country in another direction. Presented US Congress with a set of federal parameters for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. What was once just a Californian dream, is now the outlook for the entire country.
At a time when the environment begins to accelerate attention in the world, Brazil still thinks it can bring down the planet’s largest tropical forest, as if it were an obstacle.

MP 458, now only pending presidential sanction, is worse than it appears. It is disastrous. It legalises grileiros, who illegally invaded and burned down a part of the Amazon. He, who stole 1,500 hectares before the first of December 2004 could buy it without bidding and without inspection. He has preference over the land and can pay in the most friendly way: in 30 years with three years of grace. And if at the end of the grace he wants to sell the land, the MP allows it. In three years, the property can be passed on. For up to four hundred ‘stolen’ hectares, the period is ten years. And if the grileiro stool the land and left the daily work to his labourers as he himself lives somewhere else? He has also the right to stay with it, because even if the land is run by a “figurehead” the grileiro can buy it. And if it is a company? No problem at all.

Supporters of MP 458 in the House and the Senate say it is to regularize the situation which was initiated by the Military Regime and later abandoned.
Bullshit. As the deadline to acquire land is set by the first of December 2004.
They said it was to benefit the small settlers. Bullshit. As it does allow the sale of land run by a figurehead, and the sale to corporate entities.

The bill creates indecent loopholes for privatization in the worst way of the patrimony of all Brazilians.

Former Minister for the Environment and presently senator Marina Silva said that the day MP 458 was adopted in Congress, it was her third worst day of her life. She feels as if Brazil has lost all the advances of the recent years.
It is almost impossible to agree with Marina Silva as there hasn’t been much progress shown in the last years. The Lula government has always been ambiguous in relation to the environment, and Fernando Henrique, his predecessor, kept silent. If they had shown some stature, Brazil wouldn’t have lost what it lost.
In just the first two years of the Lula government, 2003 and 2004, 51.000 km2 have been deforested. Compare this to the size of the Netherlands (41.528 km2). And many grileiros who were part of that attack at the rainforest will now be ‘regularized’.

Last week Greenpeace released a devastating report, showing that 80% deforestation of the Amazon is due to livestock. Greenpeace published the names of the perpetrators, of which Bertin, Marfrig, Friboi JBS are the largest. The Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) is their partner and finances the ‘illegal’ operation. The mentioned companies provide meat to numerous retail chains, among them, large supermarkets as Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Pão de Açúcar.

During the Globonews’ programme ‘Espaço Aberto’, the coordinator of the study, Andrew Muggiatti met with Sussumu Honda, the chairman of ABRAS (Brazilian Association of Supermarkets). The BNDES was also invited, but did not show up.
The good news that came out of this programme was the positioning of the supermarkets. According to Sussumu Honda, they are preoccupied and will use their power to pressure the slaughterhouses to prove the origin of the cattle which meat is put on the supermarket shelves.
Brazilian meat exporters have threatened to sue Greenpeace. They should do the opposite and refuse any supplier linked to deforestation. The world will not buy Brazilian beef at this price. Exporters will face barriers. That’s for sure.

The backward steps will not eliminate the external market. But that is of less importance. The tragedy is that Brazil is losing its future.
Ironically Brazil adopted MP 458 during the Week of the Environment.

This is a free translation and interpretation of an article which Míriam Leitão wrote on her blog on 05 June 2009

*) Medida Provisória In Brazilian constitutional law, a Medida Provisória (presidential decree) is issued by the President of the Republic, at his discretion, without the participation of the legislative branch. The measure has the force of law, albeit not being really a law in the strict technical sense of this term. Only in cases of importance and urgency the Chief Executive may issue decrees, which he should submit later to Congress. The decree stays in force for sixty days, extendable for another 60. After this time, if Congress does not approve it, and convert it into law, the measure will lose its force.
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