Slash and burn: Brazil shreds laws protecting its rainforests

The new bill relaxes laws on the deforestation of hilltops and the amount of vegetation farmers must preserve. Partial amnesties will also be offered for previous fines

A A A

Brazil has taken a big step towards passing new laws that will loosen restrictions on the amount of Amazon rainforest that farmers can destroy, after its lower house of parliament voted in favour of updating the country's 46-year-old forest code.

In a move described as "disastrous" by conservationists, the nation's congress backed a bill relaxing laws on the deforestation of hilltops and the amount of vegetation farmers must preserve. The law also offers partial amnesties for fines levied against landowners who have illegally destroyed tracts of rainforest. The legislation, which must still be passed by the Brazillian Senate and approved by President Dilma Rousseff, aims to help owners of smaller farms and ranches compete with under-regulated rivals in countries such as the USA and Argentina.

At present, under Brazil's forest code passed in 1965, 80 per cent of all property in the Amazon basin is supposed to be left as untouched forest. In other parts of the country, that figure ranges from between 20 and 35 per cent, depending on the ecosystem of the particular region.

Farmers found to have breached the regulations have until now been required to pay large fines and plant sufficient trees to bring their landholdings up to required standards. But the system is scrappily enforced and only 10 per cent of landowners are currently believed to be in complete compliance with the rules.

Under the new code, forest that was illegally cleared between 1965 and 2008 will be exempted from regulation. In addition, farmers will, for the first time, be allowed to count land along rivers and lakes as part of their legal preserves. And strict rules governing deforestation of hilltops and slopes will be relaxed.

"It's a disaster. It heightens the risk of deforestation, water depletion and erosion," Paulo Gustavo Prado, head of environmental policy at Conservation International-Brazil, told Reuters. He believes that the new bill will result in the loss of roughly 10 per cent of Brazil's remaining rainforest.

Philip Fearnside, of the government's National Institute for Amazon Research, told the Associated Press that the "amnesty" for farmers who broke the law before 2008 will result in further illegal deforestation.

"The proposed amnesty upholds a long tradition in Brazil of legalising the illegal. People believe they can deforest illegally because sooner or later all will be forgiven."

Supporters of the bill, who have been heavily lobbied by farming groups, say the old forest code was impossible to enforce, and argue that the more relaxed laws will help them achieve better compliance.

They also decided to veto the clause in the new forest code most feared by conservationists, which would have completely removed all limits on preserving trees for small farmers and ranchers.

About 20 per cent of Brazil's rainforest has already been destroyed, and the battle to preserve the remainder arouses heated debate. Yesterday, it emerged that a green activist, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, had been shot and killed in the jungle state of Para in northern Brazil. He recently predicted that he would be murdered for criticising deforestation by local ranchers.

A watchdog group, which protects activists and small farmers in the region, said yesterday that the gunmen had cut off Mr Silva's ear, probably so that they could prove to the people who hired them that they had carried out the hit.

Suggested Topics
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?