Although the international trade in agricultural commodities is worth more than US$1.6 trillion per year, we still have a poor understanding of the supply chains connecting places of production and consumption and the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of this trade.

This study provides a wall-to-wall subnational map of the origin and supply chain of Brazilian meat, offal, and live cattle exports from 2015 to 2017, a trade worth more than US $5.4 billion per year. Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter, exporting approximately one-fifth of its production, and the sector has a notable environmental footprint, linked to one-fifth of all commodity-driven deforestation across the tropics.

By combining official per-shipment trade records, slaughterhouse export licenses, subnational agricultural statistics, and data on the origin of cattle per slaughterhouse, the authors mapped the flow of cattle from more than 2800 municipalities where cattle were raised to 152 exporting slaughterhouses where they were slaughtered, via the 204 exporting and 3383 importing companies handling that trade, and finally to 152 importing countries.

The analysis finds stark differences in the subnational origin of the sourcing of different actors and link this supply chain mapping to spatially explicit data on cattle-associated deforestation, to estimate the “deforestation risk” (in hectares per year) of each supply chain actor over time.

The results provide an unprecedented insight into the global trade of a deforestation-risk commodity and demonstrate the potential for improved supply chain transparency based on currently available data.