The UK beef industry has hit back at Greenpeace claims that the use of beef from companies illegally deforesting the Amazon is widespread.

Greenpeace published the results of a three-year investigation this week, claiming that significant amounts of beef in ready meals were sourced from Brazilian farms involved in illegal deforestation.

But meat industry sources have argued that significantly less beef is now imported from Brazil. In the first three months of 2009, the UK only imported 1,000 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef from the South American country, compared with 5,000 tonnes in the same period a year ago and 6,899 in 2007. Processed and corned beef imports fell from 14,224 tonnes in the first quarter of 2007 to 9,901 this year.

"Brazilian beef exports to the EU have been severely curtailed in the last year," said Eblex chief executive Richard Lowe. "Of course, calls for more transparency on supply chain traceability are to be welcomed, but big companies do put pressure on the supply chain for traceability already."

Tesco, one of the companies identified in the report, said Brazilian exports to the UK market were now generally small in volume, and rejected any suggestion it had taken beef from farms involved in illegal deforestation.

"All farms are independently audited and checked, and our whole supply chain must reach the same standard as those in the UK," said meat category director Stan Burns.

However, some analysts welcomed the report for reigniting the debate on traceability .

"All these sustainability issues are critically important and it's right that Greenpeace has identified them," said Supply Chain Europe analyst Andrew Morgan. "Much of the downturn in Brazilian sourcing has been because of European concerns over food safety and animal health. If these concerns are addressed, are they not going to source from Brazil again? There needs to be thorough end-to-end mapping of the supply chain."