By Fabiola Gomes
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - JBS SA, the world's largest meat company, said on Wednesday it has withdrawn a lawsuit against environmental activist group Greenpeace and renewed a promise not to purchase cattle from restricted areas in Brazil.
Greenpeace said it was in new discussions with the beef group after JBS published an independent audit of its cattle purchases in the Amazon region, seeming to end a six-month-old spat over cattle supplies.
In June, Greenpeace accused JBS of purchasing cattle raised on reserves for indigenous peoples. It said the company was breaking an accord Brazilian meat packers signed in 2009 that promised not to purchase cattle raised on illegally deforested lands, farms convicted of using slave labor or other restricted areas.
Greenpeace said two other big beef processors, Marfrig and Minerva, had no problems proving the proper origins of their cattle.
In response, JBS said it was suing Greenpeace for what it called false claims that would cause it to lose business.
In a statement on Wednesday, however, José Augusto de Carvalho Júnior, president of JBS for the Mercosur trade block, said JBS and Greenpeace had arrived at "a new stage" in joint efforts to remove deforestation from cattle supply chains.
JBS has agreed that by 2014 all of its cattle purchases in the Amazon biome will be checked with deforestation monitoring efforts.
Although Brazil has made great strides over the past decade in slowing the pace of deforestation and recently passed a new land use law meant to protect forests and encourage replanting, pressure for land from farmers and ranchers remains one of the main forces driving clearcutting.
JBS said since 2010 it has developed a monitoring system that uses satellite images, georeferenced data of the ranchers, and information from official public bodies to analyze each farm from which the company buys in that area.
In a report published on the JBS website, auditing firm BDO RCS said some 10,000 out of JBS's 22,000 registered suppliers in the Amazon have installed digital maps of their farms.
Brazil's government says illegal land clearing has slowed with better enforcement, thanks to satellite technology. Data last month suggested destruction of Amazon woodlands hit its lowest rate since monitoring began in 1988.
With global grain and beef prices on the rise after severe drought in the South American and U.S. grain belts in the past year, however, Brazilian soybean farmers have expanded planting at the highest rate since 2003, while Brazil's commercial cattle herd has grown to a record of nearly 210 million head.
(Additional reporting and writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)