An investigation into the supply chains of this ‘wonder product’ for skin, ageing, and health that’s at the centre of a global wellness craze has uncovered a dark side to its cultivation.
Collagen, which makes up 60 per cent of our cartilage, accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the dry weight of skin, and features in other connective tissues such as tendons, muscles, and bones, is the most abundant protein in the human body – responsible for its elasticity, hydration, and resilience.
As we age, its production slows down, leading to less mobility and an older, more wrinkly, appearance.
The desire to mitigate these effects is what’s placed this ‘miracle’ molecule at the centre of a global wellness craze which has sent the now booming industry’s estimated worth skyrocketing to $4bn.
Creating an enormous demand for supplements to try and artificially replenish the collagen we have; brands and pharmaceutical companies have jumped at the opportunity to promote the ‘wonder product.’
Did you sprinkle a little collagen in your smoothie this morning? Might be worth looking into where it came from. Fantastic/horrifying investigation from @lilimendonca + colleagues #Brazil https://t.co/R9zbcysBnQ
— Stephanie Nolen (@snolen) March 6, 2023
But it has to come from somewhere and, despite repeated calls for eco-friendlier beauty and personal care supply chains, it seems that somewhere is in fact hurting the planet.
This is according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), which recently uncovered a dark side to its cultivation.
Though it can be extracted from fish, pigs, and chicken, collagen from cows makes up 34% of the market. Grand View Research attributes this to the ‘high availability of cattle and lower prices.’
As stated in the TBIJ report, sourcing it this way is driving illegal deforestation and abuses against Indigenous communities.
🚨Collagen is the wonder product for skin, ageing and health – but what about the health of the planet?
Our reporters @lilimendonca, @andrewwasley and @ZukerFabio connected the booming industry to deforestation and invasion of Indigenous lands in Brazil pic.twitter.com/Qh7nJIc1WT
— The Bureau (@TBIJ) March 6, 2023
Already, the damaging impact of beef and soya on Brazilian tropical forests is well-known, but little attention has been given to this equally worrying contribution to the destruction of our Earth.
The investigation is the first to link bovine collagen with tropical forest loss and violence against Indigenous people. It found that in order to provide enough farmland for the tens of thousands of cattle required produce it, at least 1,000 square miles of deforestation has been necessary so far.
‘While collagen’s most evangelical users claim the protein can improve hair, skin, nails, and joints, slowing the aging process, it has a dubious effect on the health of the planet,’ wrote the report’s authors.
‘Behind the wildly popular ‘bovine’ variety in particular lies an opaque industry driving the destruction of tropical forests and fuelling violence and human rights abuses in the Brazilian Amazon.’
🚨REVEALED: #Nestlé brand sells collagen linked to deforestation and invasion of Indigenous lands in Brazil. @pulitzercenter RIN Fellow @lilimendonca, @ZukerFabio & @Andrew_Wasley report for @TBIJ. Read here 👉 https://t.co/z0kxMJFnO8
➕ 🧵 1/5 pic.twitter.com/z4F0IStv3t
— Rainforest Investigations Network (RIN) (@Rainforest_RIN) March 6, 2023
Some of this collagen can be traced to Nestlé-owned Vital Proteins, a leading producer of bovine collagen supplements.
Vital Proteins’ collagen range is sold globally, including in the US and UK, and is spearheaded by none other than Jennifer Anniston. After the TBIJ contacted them for comment, the company told its buyers that it would end sourcing from the Amazon region effective immediately.’
Unfortunately, with collagen companies facing no obligation to track their environmental impact, others might not be quite so willing to make changes.
In response to this, Rick Jacobsen, commodity policy manager at the Environmental Investigation Agency, told TBIJ that ‘it’s important to ensure that this type of regulation covers all key products that could be linked to deforestation.’