This article is from the Vegetarianism FAQ, by firstname.lastname@example.org (Michael Traub) with numerous contributions by others.
Hamburger chains frequently get blamed for deforestation in Latin
America. This isn't really true, and saying it over and over just
makes us look bad, since knowledgable carnivores can just refute
it. The situation is this: in Brazil in particular, but
throughout the region, governments, attempting to repay
crippling foreign loans, sell/give away land to 'developers' at
fire sale prices as long as they do something to 'develop' the
land. The cheapest way to do this is to clear cut and use the
land for cattle pasture. Thus cattle grazing is a main cause of
deforestation. The problems w/going from this to blaming the
Whopper are: as the knowledgable meat-eater will tell you, most
Latin American cattle have hoof and mouth disease and just waste
land for the sake of wasting land because they can't be sold for
beef. As a result, the Amazon is a net beef importer, and second,
rainforest land is so poor that it's only suitable for grazing for
a few years. An excellent book on this and other rainforest
issues is _The_Fate_of_the_Forest_ by Susana Hecht and Alexander
Other sources indicate that, while South America IS a net importer
of cattle (ignoring the huge quantities of processed meat product
exported from Argentina and Brazil to the U.S.), central america
does export live cattle to the U.S. These cows are labeled as U.S.
when they cross the country line. Another important aspect to
this is that soya cattle feed, grown on rain forest plots, is
exported in huge quantities to feed the cattle in other countries.
It is not possible to say that the beef burgers in the U.S. are
not directly or indirectly responsible for the destruction of the
rain forest. It is not possible to say that the U.S. imports NO
beef from the rain forest. Even if the cow herself has not been on
rain forest land, the food that she has eaten most likely has.