Environmental protection is divisive for Brazil's farming sector, which overwhelmingly backed President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 election
By Nayara Figueiredo
SAO PAULO, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Brazil's biggest lobby group for soy farmers Aprosoja has broken ties with the Brazil Agribusiness Association (Abag) over its support for an initiative calling on the Brazilian government to rein in soaring deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Abag was among roughly 230 nongovernment organizations, companies and associations that called on the government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro earlier this month to take measures to combat rising deforestation.
Aprosoja's departure from the association highlights just how divisive the issue of environmental protection is for Brazil's farming sector, which overwhelmingly backed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 election.
Environmental concerns in Europe over importing Brazilian products linked to deforestation have threatened to derail ratification of a free trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur. That would deal a blow to Brazilian farmers who stand to benefit from increased exports.
Many of the biggest farmers and commodities trading companies say marginal producers, who do not represent the industry's mainstream, are driving illegal deforestation.
Some farmers, as well as Bolsonaro, blame Brazil's negative environmental image on a smear campaign by non-governmental organizations. Environmental advocates say Bolsonaro's policies that weaken environmental enforcement embolden illegal farmers, ranchers and miners to clear the forest.
Aprosoja President Bartolomeu Braz Pereira told Reuters that Abag was playing politics by siding with non-government organizations.
"Our voice wasn't heard any more," Pereira said.
"NGOs have no interest whatsoever in preserving the environment," Pereira said. By allying with NGOs, Abag was complicit in "denigrating the image of rural producers."
Abag's press office said it would not comment on any member organizations leaving the association, but that it was not cause for concern.
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rose 34.5% in the 12-months through July, Brazil's official period for measuring deforestation, according to preliminary statistics from government space research agency Inpe.
(Reporting by Nayara Figueiredo; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Aurora Ellis)