13 April 2023

Collagen industry drives deforestation in the Amazon


A media investigation points the finger at livestock companies in the Amazon that supply the cosmetics industry fueling a $4 billion industry

by Matteo Cavallito


The industry of collagen, a popular product for the cosmetics sector, allegedly contributes to the deforestation of tropical areas as well as human rights violations in the Brazilian Amazon. This is claimed by an investigation conducted by a pool of reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the British newspaper The Guardian, the U.K. online broadcaster ITV, and the Brazilian investigative website O Joio e O Trigo.

“The links between beef and soya and deforestation in Brazil are well known, but little attention has been given to the booming collagen industry, worth an estimated $4bn,” writes the Guardian. “Collagen can be extracted from fish, pigs and cattle. Its most evangelical users claim the protein can improve hair, skin, nails and joints, slowing the ageing process. As well as beauty and wellness brands, it is also used by pharmaceutical companies and those producing food ingredients.”

The investigation in the Amazon

Under the reporters’ lens, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports, is cattle raised by some companies linked to deforestation and processed in slaughterhouses serving international collagen supply chains. Among the buyers of the product is Vital Proteins, a company owned by Nestlé. When questioned by the bureau, the same company indicated that it would “end sourcing from the Amazon region effective immediately.”

The investigation, then, attributed at least 2,600 square kilometers of deforestation to ranching activities linked to the supply chains of two Brazilian companies: Rousselot and Gelnex.

Rousselot is a subsidiary of Texas-based Darling Ingredients. Darling is reportedly in the process of acquiring Gelnex for an amount of about $1.2 billion. “Darling Ingredients told TBIJ that the company and its subsidiary Rousselot monitor their suppliers and remove those that don’t meet responsible sourcing criteria,” the bureau writes. The U.S. company would not comment on Gelmex since the acquisition has not yet been finalized.

Allegations of violence against native communities

According to reporters, the supply chains for Brazilian bovine collagen are very complex and involve several middlemen. “Peptan” collagen, marketed by Rousselot, is the world’s leading brand and is exported to the United States and Europe. Supplying the cow skins is a tannery called BluBrasil and located in Bataguassu, Mato Grosso do Sul.

“That complex is owned by Marfrig, one of Brazil’s “Big Three” beef businesses,” the bureau writes. “Marfrig’s cattle suppliers have been linked to the destruction of tropical forests and encroachment on the territory of the Guarani Kaoiwá Indigenous People.”

Moreover: “In 2021, the plant purchased animals from the Campanário farm, a large property violating the Guarani Kaiowá territory in Laguna Carapã, also in Mato Grosso do Sul. The area is notorious for its high rate of violence against Indigenous people. Marfrig told the Bureau that only a small portion of the property is on top of the ancestral land, which the company says is not fully recognised as Indigenous territory. The owner of Campanário farm did not respond to the Bureau’s request for comment. Nor did BluBrasil.”

Weak regulation

Marfrig confirmed that Campanário was at the time an indirect supplier of his that was in compliance with supply standards. But doubts remain, if only in the face of the limitations of the regulatory system that contribute to the opacity of the industry. Unlike with producers of meat, soybeans, palm oil and other products, in fact, companies marketing collagen are not required to track their environmental impact, the Guardian says.

This regulatory shortcoming complicates supply chain monitoring in an industry that offers significant profits to its operators.

Also according to the British newspaper, which quotes U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, animal by-products, including skin and collagen, make up almost half the weight of a slaughtered cow. And they can generate up to 20 percent of meat producers’ income.