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6 Mar 2023

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism,
O Joio e o Trigo

Brazil: Global collagen powder production chain linked to deforestation and violence against indigenous people in the country, says investigation


"Collagen craze drives deforestation and rights abuses - For the first time an investigation has linked collagen powder to violence against Indigenous peoples in Brazilian forests", 06 de marzo de 2023

...The lorries’ destination is Amparo, a small industrial town in São Paulo state, southeastern Brazil. Here, Rousselot, a company owned by the Texan business Darling Ingredients, extracts collagen – the active ingredient in health supplements at the centre of a global wellness craze.

...Collagen can be extracted from fish, pig and cattle skin, but behind the wildly popular “bovine” variety in particular lies an opaque industry driving the destruction of tropical forests and fuelling violence and human rights abuses in the Brazilian Amazon.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian, ITV and O Joio e O Trigo has found that tens of thousands of cattle raised on farms damaging tropical forests were processed at abattoirs connected to international collagen supply chains.

Some of this collagen can be traced all the way to Nestlé-owned Vital Proteins, a major producer of collagen supplements...Vital Proteins is sold globally – including online on Amazon, in Walmart stores in the US, in Holland & Barrett and Boots in the UK and in Costco in both countries.

The investigation – the first to connect bovine collagen with tropical forest loss and violence against Indigenous peoples – found at least 2,600 sq km of deforestation linked to the supply chains of two Brazil-based collagen operations with connections to Darling: Rousselot and Gelnex, which is in the process of being acquired by Darling for $1.2bn. It is unclear how much of this deforestation, which was calculated by the Center for Climate Crime Analysis, is linked to Vital Proteins...

In a response to its buyers after TBIJ approached retailers for comment, Vital Proteins told them that it would “end sourcing from the Amazon region effective immediately”. ​

Darling Ingredients told TBIJ that the company and its subsidiary Rousselot monitor their suppliers and remove those that don’t meet responsible sourcing criteria. A spokesperson added that the companies “play a crucial role” in “collecting and repurposing animal by-products that would otherwise be discarded”. It said it could not comment on Gelnex since its October 2022 acquisition has not been formalised.

Holland and Barrett said it is committed to responsible sourcing and making sure supply chains are not contributing to deforestation. It added that it raised the allegations in this investigation with Vital Proteins and would consider corrective action if further policy breaches were found.

A Boots spokesperson said: “We are in touch with our suppliers to provide reassurances around the sourcing of collagen.”

Costco said it took the allegations seriously and had contacted its suppliers. Walmart and Amazon declined to comment.

...Many wellness companies, including Vital Proteins, a Nestlé brand, now offer “grass-fed Brazilian bovine collagen”...

Unlike beef, soy, palm oil and other major food commodities, collagen is not covered by forthcoming due diligence legislation in the EU and UK designed to tackle deforestation. Collagen companies therefore have no obligation to track its environmental impacts...

Gelnex told TBIJ: “All raw materials used by the company are sourced from approved suppliers, duly registered before the applicable regulatory agencies, and legally authorised to operate in accordance with applicable laws”...

JBS said that although there was deforestation on some of the farms identified, its purchases from these were “fully compliant” with its procurement and monitoring protocols, and that others had adhered to its standards.

Brazil’s third largest meatpacker, Minerva, said that it works to ensure that cattle purchased do not originate from properties with illegally deforested areas, adding that it monitors “100% of direct suppliers”...

Nestlé said that the allegations raised are not in line with its commitment to responsible sourcing and has contacted its supplier to investigate this matter. It added that it is taking steps to ensure its products are deforestation-free by 2025...