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BBQs across Europe are fuelling one of the world’s most pressing environmental crises, the rampant destruction of the Gran Chaco in South America.
An investigation by the London-based NGO Earthsight, published today in the report “Choice Cuts”, reveals the role of a senior government minister in Paraguay in unsustainably exploiting the fragile forests of the Chaco to supply supermarket chains and restaurants in Germany, Spain, the UK and across the continent.
Described by David Attenborough as “one of the last great wilderness areas in the world”, the Chaco’s dry tropical forest is home to a plethora of precious wildlife and one of the world’s last tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Ayoreo.
This is all now threatened by the advance of deforestation. The Paraguayan Chaco is being cleared by large, private companies to produce charcoal and rear cattle for beef, with the majority of production of both destined for export.
The result of a year-long investigation, Choice Cuts traces charcoal from trees felled in the Chaco to make way for cattle, to the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, to an intermediary firm in Madrid, and from there to the shelves of major European supermarket chains.
Sam Lawson, Director of Earthsight, said “The clearance of the Chaco forest is one of the largest and fastest losses of natural forest ever seen. It is absolutely outrageous that major European supermarkets should have a hand in this.”
Bricapar, Paraguay’s largest charcoal exporter, is part-owned by government minister Ramón Jiménez Gaona. Bricapar’s charcoal is sold in the supermarkets Lidl, Aldi and Carrefour, among others.
Earthsight investigators found one of the company’s large production facilities hidden deep in the heart of the Chaco, and witnessed slow-growing, dense hardwood trees being fed into ovens.
Satellite images show 10 football pitches of forest per day being cleared nearby, in an area previously identified as a priority for conservation. Signs of the presence of uncontacted Ayoreo have been found just 40 kilometres away.
Choice Cuts details the web of false or misleading statements made by Bricapar’s European distributor, Ibecosol, concerning the origin of its products. It also exposes the fog of scandal that cloaks Gaona, who has become embroiled in in a corruption case – unrelated to his charcoal business – that stretches across the globe.
“These supermarkets claim to be good citizens. It is time they backed up these claims with meaningful action”, Mr Lawson said. Earthsight is also demanding urgent action by the European Union, which has committed to take action to prevent its consumption of ‘forest risk commodities’ driving deforestation overseas.
Earthsight is a UK-based independent, non-profit organisation whose mission is to promote the use of in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption. For further information, contact Sam Lawson, Director, email@example.com
 Some 22,000 bags of Paraguayan charcoal are entering Germany every day, and 5000 arriving in the UK. Paraguay is the largest source of charcoal imports to Germany, and one of the top three for the UK. Earthsight estimates that as many as 30-football pitches of Paraguayan Chaco forest are being cleared every day to supply Europe with charcoal
 Earthsight’s evidence indicates that Bricapar charcoal products are on sale at branches of Carrefour in Spain, Lidl in Germany and Spain, and Aldi in Germany and Spain. Substantial quantities of Bricapar charcoal are also sold to unidentified distributors in the UK for use in the restaurant and hotel sector. Earthsight contacted supermarkets in advance of publication. In response, Carrefour has temporarily suspended purchases from Bricapar while it conducts its own investigation.
 Further background on the EU’s commitments can be found in a report by the NGO Fern, available at http://www.fern.org/EUActionPlanSummary. The EU recently held a major conference on the subject, a report of which is available here.