Greenpeace on Wednesday accused JBS, the world's largest meatpacker, of not honoring a 2009 agreement in which the Brazilian company pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest by not buying cattle from suppliers who raise beef on illegally deforested land.
JBS denied the claim and said it would take legal action against Greenpeace, saying the environmental group's report could potentially cause a loss in sales. JBS didn't indicate what sort of damages it might seek.
Greenpeace said it based its accusations on observations made by its own field investigators and on information obtained in reports from Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency.
"In researching JBS's business practices, Greenpeace has found, once again, numerous new cases of JBS purchasing cattle directly and indirectly from farms involved in illegal deforestation, invasion of protected areas and indigenous lands, and also of farms using slave labor," the group said in a statement.
JBS rejected those accusations out of hand.
"The information mentioning JBS in the report are false, misleading, incorrect, and lead society to make wrong judgments," the company said in an emailed statement. "For this reason the company will take judicial action against Greenpeace and search for all legal means to obtain compensation for material damages."
After hours calls to Ibama were not returned.
The Greenpeace report comes just two weeks before the United Nations' Rio+20 sustainable development conference, where preserving the Amazon will be a big topic.
In 2009, JBS SA and three of Brazil's other major meatpackers and leather exporters signed Greenpeace-brokered agreements with officials in some rural states promising to remove from their supply chain any cattle raised in a manner that led to illegal deforestation or relied upon the work of people mired in debt-slavery conditions.
Those agreements came after scathing Greenpeace reports that outlined links Brazil's biggest meat companies had with suppliers relying on illegal practices to raise their herds. Major retailers at the time, such as Nike Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Carrefour SA, said they would cut ties with any companies that couldn't clean up their supply chains.
Similar agreements have been struck in recent years with big soy suppliers and traders working in Brazil, such as Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge Ltd. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities. The clearing of Amazon lands to make way for soy farms is also a top cause of deforestation.
Sen. Katia Abreu, a leading voice of the agriculture caucus and the president of Brazil's National Agriculture and Livestock Federation, said the nation's ranchers and farmers are cooperating with the government to reduce rainforest destruction _ and that it is working.
"In 2004, the Brazilian government adopted the commitment of reducing deforestation by 80 percent," Abreu told reporters Wednesday while traveling in Paris. "At the end of last year, eight years before the deadline, we have already almost reached that goal."
Amazon deforestation slowed and hit its lowest recorded level from August 2010 through July 2011, the latest annual period measured, when 2,410 square miles (6,240 square kilometers) were felled.