This Israeli Supermarket Chain May Be Abetting Rain Forest Devastation to Get Cheap Meat

Greenpeace report shows the Cresud company, whose CEO is a Shufersal shareholder, is responsible for cutting down 1.2 million dunams of trees in the Gran Chaco forest

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Cattle stand near a wooded area smoldering in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, August 25, 2019.
Cattle stand near a wooded area smoldering in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, August 25, 2019.Credit: Leo Correa,AP

"I will not allow any Shufersal employee to harm another employee, certainly not a weak one," said Itzhak Abercohen in a video posted on Facebook this Friday, in answer to another clip that had documented company employees abusing their special-needs colleague. Abercohen's message was categorical and sharp as a tack. He emphasized such behaviors do not comply with company's values.

Abercohen merits applause for taking a strong stance on an episode liable to leave a stain on the company's good name. For that very reason, it is not clear why Shufersal has neglected to relate to another matter which is also casting a shadow on the company's values, according to a Greenpeace report published a month ago.

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Greenpeace reported that Cresud, which grows corn, soybeans, sugarcane and cattle and which is owned by Eduard and Alejandro Elsztain, is responsible for cutting down 1.2 million dunams of trees in the Gran Chaco forest, which spans 650 square kilometers in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. The trees were hewn down to clear space for more soybeans and cattle – cultivated for their meat. Cresud, Greenpeace adds, owns 8 million dunams of land (800,000 hectares) in South America. "Argentine beef for sale in Germany, the Netherlands and Israel" is the title of a chapter in the Greenpeace report.

The cattle are bred and slaughtered by a company called Carne Pampeanas owned by Cresud. Its slaughterhouse in Patagonia exports worldwide – including to Israel.

One of its clients is none other than the Israeli retail giant Shufersal, which is owned by Discount Investment Corp, which is owned by the Elsztain group. In other words, the Elsztain group owns a company that is contributing to systematically wiping out the second-biggest rainforest in Latin America; Elsztain also owns 18.2% of Shufersal itself. 

Elsztain was behind the insider transaction with Carne Pampeanas which was approved by the Shufersal audit committee in June 2018, for Shufersal to import and sell fresh meat.

Argentinian businessman Eduard Elsztain.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The companies agreed that Shufersal would buy up to 1,200 tons of fresh meat between June 2018 and June 2019, and would pay no more than 35 million shekels for the meat. The agreement effectively covered deals that began in December 2017, but which were minor in amount. Shufersal's motive is trivial: it's paying a mere 29 shekels per kilo of meat, on average, and sells it for 40 to 140 shekels per kilo (those are the prices through its website). Its profit is 27.5% to 80%.

The agreement generated sales of 9 million shekels in 2019; in February 2019 the Shufersal audit committee approved expanding the agreement to 84 million shekels in 2019. Shufersal approved the deal properly through its appropriate organs. But one has to ask what the point is in its policy of corporate responsibility, in which the company swore commitment to environmental responsibility – part of which involves Shufersal checking its effect on the environment, in order to reduce its "negative effect" footprint insofar as possible.

All you need to check the company's "negative effect" is check its meat cooler. A company abetting an environmental crime against humanity also probably shouldn't boast about belonging to the highest category ("platinum plus") rating for corporate responsibility - for the fourth year in a row. One wonders if it can keep its rating given that its profitable meat dealing is at the expense of a delicate ecological system.

Shufersal commented that the supplier, Carne Pampeanas, is one of the leading companies allowed to export meat and is closely supervised by the Argentine veterinary system. Shufersal said it buys meat according to the strictest standards of Israel's Agriculture Ministry and Health Ministry, to assure the best quality of fresh meat.

As for the supplier's environmental policy, and specifically Carne Pampeanas' policy – Shufersal said it didn't have detailed information and in any case, will ask the supplier for explanations after it studies the matter.