Brazil seizes livestock to protect rainforest

In an unprecedented move against rogue cattle ranchers in the Amazon, the Brazilian government has seized livestock grazing there illegally, the new environment minister announced Tuesday. Officials carted off 3,100 head of cattle that they said were being raised on an ecological reserve in the state of Para.

The operation is intended to serve as a warning to other ranchers grazing an estimated 60,000 head on illegally deforested land in Amazonia, the environment minister, Carlos Minc, said.

“No more being soft,” Mr. Minc told reporters in the capital, Brasilia. “Those that don’t respect environmental legislation, your cattle are going to become barbecue for Fome Zero,” he said, referring to the government’s food program for the poor.

Mr. Minc said the cattle would be auctioned in two weeks and the proceeds go to Fome Zero, as well as to health programs for indigenous peoples and to finance cattle removal operations.

Though Mr. Minc announced the strategy on Tuesday, the seizure took place June 7 by federal police and agents from Ibama, the government environmental agency. The cattle’s owner had been fined 3 million reais ($1.86 million) in 2005 for illegal deforestation and had ignored a court order to remove the livestock.

Fears have been growing over the future of the world’s biggest rain forest. Though annual deforestation figures fell to a 16-year low of 4,333 square miles in 2007 — from a nine-year high of 10,571 square miles in 2004 — government agencies reported this year that deforestation was on the rise again, and cattle farmers were blamed for much of the increase.

A recent report by the environmental group Friends of the Earth said that Brazil’s growing dominance of the global beef market was in large part because of the expansion into the Amazon, where land is cheap.