Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures


Lester R. Brown

Chapter 9. The Brazilian Dilemma: Meat Exports Climbing

An expanding world market for meat combined with surging domestic consumption is spurring rapid growth in Brazil’s beef, pork, and poultry sectors. Total meat exports have expanded from scarcely a half-million tons in 1990 to 4 million tons in 2004, enabling Brazil to challenge the United States for world leadership. 27

Brazil has the world’s largest commercial cattle herd, with 190 million cattle. (See Figure 9–6.) With the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease in the key cattle-raising states—including Mato Grosso, Rondônia, and Tocatins, which straddle the cerrado and the Amazon—and with eradication of this disease expected nationwide by 2005, many new markets have opened up for Brazilian beef. Interested buyers include not only industrial countries, such as those in Western Europe, but also developing countries, such as Chile, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. In anticipation of this export growth, the annual increase in the Brazilian herd jumped from less than 2 million during the 1990s to 6 million from 2000 to 2004. Much of this growth is occurring on the edge of the Amazon. 28

Brazilian beef exports leapt from 200,000 tons in 1995 to 1.4 million tons in 2004, just edging out Australia and the United States, the traditional leaders in beef exports. Growth in demand for beef was driven by the expanding domestic market until the December 1998 devaluation of the Brazilian reál, which made Brazilian beef much more competitive in world markets. (See Figure 9–7.) The resulting expansion of exports raised the price of beef in the Amazon. 29

In contrast to the situation with beef, Brazil is a second-tier producer of pork, with only 2.5 million tons a year compared with 9 million tons in the United States and a staggering 46 million tons in China. Yet Brazilian exports of 400,000 tons of pork put it third among exporting countries, trailing only Canada and the United States. 30

With poultry, Brazil is both a leading producer and exporter. Its rapidly growing production may overtake China within the next few years, leaving it second only to the United States. Exports have climbed to 2.2 million tons in 2004, matching those of the United States. 31

In summary, Brazil’s exports of beef, pork, and poultry are expanding steadily. It is the leading exporter of beef, ranks third in pork, and is vying with the United States for the lead in poultry. With beef, Brazil is essentially exporting grass, part of it grown on land in the Amazon basin that was until recently covered by rainforest. But when it comes to pork and poultry, it is basically grain that is being exported. While no precise data are available, Brazil appears to be exporting close to 10 million tons of grain in the form of meat. It may be that the country’s future lies not so much in exporting grain per se as it does in exporting grain indirectly in the form of pork and poultry. 32


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