Collagen peptides have been one of the hottest supplements for a long time now.
One thing often left out of the collagen peptide conversation is ethics. Most people are unaware of where it comes from, who produces it, and its associated problems. While collagen is very popular, nearly all of it is an ethical nightmare. From deforestation of the Amazon rainforest to slavery, land theft, and murder, the production of most collagen is horrific.
The vast majority of collagen peptide products are produced from raw materials farmed in South America, with most coming from Brazil. Some companies will buy these raw materials, refine them in another country, and hide where they come from. For example, a company may say their collagen is produced in Germany, but it is made from Brazilian cattle hides. Brazilian cattle farming comes at a very high cost. It is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation. The Amazon rainforest is often called the lungs of the earth. It’s not worth losing it over beef and collagen that can be farmed and produced elsewhere without environmental and ethical problems.
In just the last six years alone, over 800 million trees have been cut down in the Amazon rainforest to make way for beef production. The hides from this are used to produce the vast majority of collagen peptide products on the market. While the Amazon Rainforest is heavily protected on paper, in reality, that paper is not worth much.
Between August 1, 2018, and July 31, 2021, more than 34,000 square km (8.4 million acres) disappeared from the Brazilian Amazon. That’s an area larger than the entire nation of Belgium and a 52 percent increase compared to the previous three years.
The biggest driver of this is cattle and especially cattle laundering.
In a cattle laundering scheme, ranchers move cattle from “dirty” ranches, which contribute to deforestation, to ranches that are “clean,” with no recent forest loss. By the time those cattle arrive at slaughterhouses, the path they’ve taken is obscured, as is the damage they’ve caused.
What’s astonishing is that much of this laundering is happening out in the open; investigations largely rely on public records in Brazil, and their findings have circulated for years. Meat from laundered cows is almost certainly now sold around the world. And like that, the Amazon continues to fall.
It is not possible to source ethically produced collagen peptides from Brazil because of how hidden and corrupt the process is. Any company claiming to is either not being honest or fooled by fake paperwork and good marketing.
The leading suppliers of collagen peptides, such as JBS and others, have their own issues. JBS has had more scandals than you can shake a stick at, from insider trading to bribery, the usage of slave labor, and the sale of rotten meat.
“The investigation also uncovered footage of a Temer aide carrying a suitcase containing nearly $150,000, allegedly handed over by JBS. Ricardo Saud, a JBS executive, subsequently testified the company had bribed 1,829 candidates from across the political spectrum, spending almost $250m.”
Who doesn’t walk around with a suitcase full of money? That’s not suspicious at all.
The company has also come under fire over “dirty meat.” In 2017, JBS was caught up in an industry-wide scandal; police claimed inspectors had been bribed to allow the sale of rotten beef, falsified export and other documents, and had deliberately failed to properly inspect meat plants.
In 2017, an investigation by the Guardian and Repórter Brasil found JBS had bought beef from a farm that was under investigation by Brazilian prosecutors for using workers in conditions described as being like “modern-day slavery.” Documents said police had found men forced to live in conditions described as inhumane and degrading, with inadequate shelter, toilets or drinking water.
This is the behavior so many people are unknowingly supporting by buying collagen peptides produced in South America. The problem is that most companies are not upfront and hide where their collagen comes from, how it is produced, and who makes it.
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 championed by the actor Jennifer Aniston. 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.
Some companies claim that they are just buying the by-products of the Brazilian cattle industry, so they are not contributing to the problem. This argument is a giant steaming pile of horseshit.
But “by-product” is a misleading term, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group headquartered in London. “I wouldn't call any of them by-products. The margins for the meat industry are quite narrow, so all of the saleable parts of the animal are built into the business model,” Rick Jacobsen, commodity policy manager at the EIA, said.
Non-meat products account for just under a half a slaughtered cow's weight and can generate up to a quarter of meatpackers’ incomes, according to estimates by Bain & Co, a market research group. By far the most valuable “by-products” are the cattle hides used to make leather and collagen.
For Kátia Silene Akrãtikatêjê, the first woman to become a leader of the Gavião people, it’s like living on an island. Her people feel “surrounded, suffocated”, she told TBIJ. The Mãe Maria reserve is the only territory in hundreds of miles that still resembles the imposing Amazon rainforest.
In September last year, an entire village was burned down. A school, dozens of houses and a patch of forest were reduced to ashes. The fire was no accident, they say, and the community still lives in fear.
According to José Batista Afonso, a lawyer and land rights defender working with Pastoral Land Commission in Marabá, the region offers a glimpse of what the whole Amazon could look like if ranching continues to expand unchecked.
In addition, slave labor runs rampant in the Brazilian cattle industry.
On some operations, workers were paid around $11 a day and were kept in shacks without running water, electricity, and toilets. Since 1995, 55,000 workers have been rescued from similar situations during government audits, according to the Guardian. The farms engaging in this activity often supply multinational meat processors, the investigative report found, including JBS and Minerva.
Now you can see why we never have and never will sell collagen peptide powders and glandular supplements from South America.
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!
There is a better way. As with many of the things we buy, it does not have to be that way. Profits don’t have to come before a better environment or the fair treatment of people who work the fields and labor in factories. Unfortunately, when the largest sellers of collagen are mostly owned by Nestle (such as Vital Proteins, Garden of Life, Pure Encapsulations, and Orgain) and other large corporations, profits will always come before people.
Thankfully your choice does not have to be between a collagen that’s ethically compromised and no collagen at all.
Despite being our most requested product, we refused to sell collagen peptide powders for years because we could not locate any that we could guarantee were ethically produced. We will never sell products that use ingredients that cause massive deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the suffering of native peoples.
Finally, after several years, we were able to locate a family-owned Australian company producing them. These collagen peptides come from small family farms in Australia. The cattle graze freely on lush pastures and are well taken care of. No forest is cleared; the pastures they are grazing on naturally occur there. They are not given hormones or antibiotics. The Australian government runs a strict monitoring program to ensure there is no risk of BSE (mad cow disease). Every batch is third-party tested for over two hundred contaminants.
As they say, good things come to those who wait, and we have waited a long time to find them. We are so excited to be able to make ethically produced collagen peptides available!