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Study Links Most Amazon Deforestation to 128 Slaughterhouses
By Eduardo Pegurier, Translated by Bruno Moraes
Satellites are mechanical reporters of the Amazon deforestation process. By documenting the degradation and gaps created by the clear-cutting process over the years, they deliver the verdict: Two-thirds of the Amazon's deforested area has been turned into pastures.
From the ground, the cattle count reveals that the Amazon is home to more cattle than people. By 2016, the region's cattle numbers amounted to 85 million head, compared to a human population of 25 million—more than three cows per person. In the city of São Félix do Xingu, which contains the largest herd in Brazil, this proportion reaches 18 cows to 1 person.
The Brazilian Amazon covers 61 percent of the nation's territory and harbors 40 percent of the national herd. Cattle are kept on about 400,000 farms and ranches there, ranging in size from a few to tens of thousands of hectares.
The Imazon study linked most Amazon deforestation to just 128 slaughterhouses.Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
So it was that when the NGO Imazon finished a new and detailed survey on the region's slaughterhouses, they received a major surprise: finding that a small number, just 128 active slaughterhouses belonging to 99 companies, are responsible for 93 percent of the annual slaughter—close to 12 million head.
The fact that slaughterhouses represent a bottleneck in the livestock breeding chain was already known. But Imazon's survey breaks new ground because it clearly reveals the geography of livestock production in the Brazilian Amazon, documenting the area of influence—the amount of pasture required to fulfill the supply demands of each of the 128 slaughterhouses.
To put things in perspective, fulfilling the annual processing capacity of a single large meat processing plant requires almost 600 thousand hectares (2,317 square miles) of pasture, an area more than seven times larger than New York City. The set of slaughterhouses analyzed in the study, operating at full capacity, would require a pasture area of 68 million hectares (262,559 square miles, or roughly the size of Texas). Importantly, this amount exceeds the total pasture area available in the region today, indicating that in the near future cattle ranching will generate more Amazon deforestation.
Imazon's study results reinforce the correctness of the satellite record, documenting an ongoing Amazon deforestation process linked to the cattle industry.
With this reality in mind, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the independent federal prosecutor's office, has pressured the region's slaughterhouses to sign the so-called Beef Agreement since 2009, starting in the state of Pará. This contract, made between the MPF and each signing slaughterhouse, commits the firms to inspections of the pasture land where acquired animals originated, in order to ban cattle pasture expansions resulting in deforestation.
Paulo Barreto, the Imazon study lead researcher, explains the practicality of the processing plant contracts: "It was like having two options to address this issue: gathering managers for each of these 100 slaughterhouse firms in a conference room or, alternatively, filling five huge soccer stadiums with all the farmers involved in cattle ranching."
Fulfilling the annual processing capacity of a single large meat processing plant in the Amazon requires almost 600 thousand hectares (2,317 square miles) of pasture, an area more than seven times larger than New York City. The need for so much pasture has resulted in significant deforestation.Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
The analysis detailing the influence of so few slaughterhouses on almost the entire Amazon cattle industry involved detective work and geo-processing technology.
The first step was to obtain the addresses of every large meatpacking plant and certify them by using high-definition satellite images to look for typical facilities, such as corrals and wastewater treatment systems. From there, researchers wanted to answer two questions: What was the potential cattle supply range for each slaughterhouse? And, how do these potential pasture supply zones relate to already deforested areas and to those that are at higher risk of deforestation in the near future?
The researchers determined the maximum distance between each slaughterhouse and its suppliers by interviewing local managers by phone, then crossing data. There were extreme cases at both ends of the spectrum, including one plant in the state of Acre which did not buy cattle raised any farther away than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from their door. On the other extreme, a slaughterhouse in the state of Amazonas acquired animals from more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away to compensate for a local livestock shortage during the dry season.
The study dealt with two slaughterhouse categories: those with a state license, which allows them to sell meat within their states; and those with a federal license, allowing the firms to sell country-wide and for export. On average, meatpacking plants with state licenses have the capacity to slaughter 180 animals per day, and buy from farms that can be up to 153 kilometers (95 miles) away. Plants with national licenses can slaughter 700 animals per day, brought from up to 360 kilometers (223 miles) away.
The next step in the analysis process, based on the maximum pasture to meat processing plant distances, was to establish the potential area that supplied each slaughterhouse—a goal accomplished with geospatial technology.
Satellite image of the JBS slaughterhouse in Santana do Araguaia, in the state of Pará, Brazil. Google Earth
"Imazon has an extensive database of formal and informal roads in the Amazon, which has been updated since 2008," said Amintas Brandão Jr., a study co-author. "We ran a spatial analysis in which you insert the coordinates of the slaughterhouse in the software and its maximum buying distance, say 100 kilometers. Then the software automatically goes through all the roads and navigable rivers accessible to that slaughterhouse up to those 100 kilometers distant. Thus, we have been able to delineate a potential supply zone." According to Brandão, this was the study's novelty: it establishes each slaughterhouse's area of influence using the infrastructure network—the systems of roads and navigable rivers through which cattle can be transported.
Importantly, the total pasture zone of influence corresponding to all 128 analyzed slaughterhouses covers almost the entirety of areas embargoed due to deforestation by Ibama, the federal agency that polices environmental offenses. It also matches 88 percent of all deforestation that occurred in the Amazon between 2010 and 2015.
Also importantly, the study generated a forecast of the most likely future deforested areas in the Brazilian Amazon.
Again, the researchers utilized geospatial analysis software. They divided the entire region into a grid of 1 kilometer-wide squares. The probability of future deforestation was estimated for each square based on the presence of factors that stimulate forest destruction, such as available roads or rivers for transportation, distance to markets and land production potential. Using this data, they created a map of deforestation probability for the entire Brazilian Amazon. Then the researchers used the deforested area for the three previous years—1.7 million hectares (17,000 square kilometers; 6,564 square miles)—as an estimate of total forest loss that can happen in the three year period between 2016 to 2018. Based on this probability map, they determined the areas under higher risk of new deforestation. The last step was to overlap these projections and the slaughterhouses' zones of potential supply. The match between the two was 90 percent.
In other words, if the current deforestation rates are repeated between 2016 and 2018, 90 percent of new forest loss will occur within the estimated cattle supply zone of 128 slaughterhouses.
If the Amazon's current deforestation rate is repeated between 2016 and 2018, then 90 percent of new forest loss will occur within the estimated cattle supply zone of the 128 slaughterhouses.Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Consequences and Solutions
"From the surveillance point of view, this work can help control deforestation by showing where its hot spots are," said Brandão.
According to Barreto, "it is impressive how small is the number of slaughterhouse firms that sit at the end of a [cattle supply] chain that involves almost 400,000 ranchers." For him, this confirms that the best way to reduce forest loss due to livestock is to involve the slaughterhouses in the deforestation surveillance, as the MPF agreements require.
But Barreto also points out problems with this approach: 30 percent of the slaughters are done by meat processing firms that have not signed the Beef Agreement. That means that these firms do not inspect the place of origin of their cattle. Worse, these slaughterhouses are located in the same area of activity as those who have signed the agreement, thus becoming alternatives for the sale of cattle raised in illegally opened pastures.
Imazon's study created a detailed picture of the influence that slaughterhouses can have on deforestation. "We already have a map, and the technologies are available to trace cattle from the ranches where they are bred all the way to intermediate fattening ranches, and to the slaughter sites," said Barreto. "Now, we need consistent legal pressure and punishment for breeders and meatpackers who condone environmental crimes."
The new study forecasts that serious Amazon deforestation will likely continue to occur unless effective enforcement policies are adopted to monitor and control the pasture usage of the region's slaughterhouses. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
This sort of pressure, he said, came from the market itself in the case of foot-and-mouth disease, when the cattle industry realized that it would lose global markets if an effective vaccination program wasn't implemented. The pinch from the market led farmers to organize themselves and to partner with the government to effectively control foot-and-mouth disease, which was quite a feat.
Likewise, if the government and slaughterhouses have the will, he says, then they can work together to end ranching activities that bring down forests. For Barreto, a good starting point for reducing deforestation would be the creation of a new round of beef sector law enforcement pressure administered by the MPF and Ibama. Such a move would be a huge step toward achieving zero deforestation in the Amazon.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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