Why Brazil Is Shifting from Meat and Embracing Plant-Based Foods

According to the New York Times, the number of vegetarians in Brazil, the world’s largest meat exporter, has nearly doubled in just six years. Experts say this dramatic shift from animal meat is driven by health concerns, deforestation caused by the meat industry, and a rising animal rights movement—which includes Mercy For Animals.

In 2018, 30 million people—a whopping 14 percent of Brazilians—considered themselves vegan or vegetarian. This has made Brazil, famed for its love of “churrascos” (barbecues), a hub for plant-based innovation. Bruno Fonesca, co-founder of vegan company New Butchers, said that the country is “going through a revolution.”

Mercy For Animals began operations in Brazil in 2015 and has worked diligently in the country to support the cultural shift toward a compassionate plant-based lifestyle.


In recent years unhealthy food has become cheaper and more widely available in Brazil, leading to an increase in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses. Experts say concern for health is one of the major forces driving Brazilians to embrace plant-based options. This makes sense. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the health effects of consuming plant-based meat with those of eating animal meat and found that vegan meat lessened several risk factors for heart disease.

Through our Conscious Eating Brazil program, Mercy For Animals works with public schools around the country to increase their plant-based options. Schools that join the program commit to a 20 percent reduction in animal products served, often achieved through one full day of vegan meals each week. This program has already impacted more than 7.6 million meals. Sandra Lopes, our managing director in Brazil, stated:

Conscious Eating exposes children to vegan alternatives from an early age and gives local officials the satisfaction of supporting a segment of the food industry that is operating more sustainably. Kids like the food that is being served.


Animal agriculture is the leading driver of Amazon destruction and the main user of deforested land. In Brazil, cattle grazing uses nearly 91 percent of deforested land. It is also a major contributor to fires that have decimated forests in Brazil and other Amazon countries. Last year, more than 74,000 fires were recorded—the largest number in a single year.

In response to the fires, Mercy For Animals launched a campaign called Behind the Fires to bring attention to the destruction caused by the meat industry. Mercy For Animals also hosted a striking demonstration on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, Brazil. Wearing paper gas masks and holding signs, activists pushed a 10-foot-long barbecue grill with a massive “steak” on top. Under the grill’s bars, a replica rainforest burned.

Animal Rights

Through undercover investigations, Mercy For Animals has given the world a glimpse behind the curtain of animal agriculture in Brazil. In June, we teamed up with Brazilian superstar Xuxa Meneghel to expose a pig factory farm. Xuxa has millions of followers across her social media channels. Her star power boosted Mercy For Animals’ name recognition and brought the cruel realities of factory farming to a wider audience.

Thanks in great part to incredible volunteers and the amazing efforts of allied organizations in Brazil, the animal rights movement has become a strong force in the country.

Industry Change

Major companies are taking note of the shift toward plant-based foods. Even Outback Steakhouse, an extremely popular chain in Brazil, recently launched a broccoli and cauliflower burger.

But there’s still more work to do. Mercy For Animals recently launched a campaign calling on Domino’s Brazil to add vegan menu options. Within days of hearing from thousands of customers, the company committed to offering plant-based meats. We are keeping up the pressure to ensure they also add plant-based cheese to the menu.

Are you ready to change the world? Start adding more plant-based meals to your routine by downloading our FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide.