Soya in animal feed linked to deforestation

7 October 2019

Soya used in animal feed and sold to UK farmers has been linked to deforestation in Argentina.

Retailers including Tesco, Marks and Spencer (M&S), Asda and Morrisons have been revealed as buying meat products from UK farmers who use animal feed containing Argentinian soya, an investigation by The Guardian has found. 

Around 14% of soya produced in Argentina stems from the Gran Chaco forest, an area that has been significantly impacted by deforestation. According to WWF, soya is the second-largest driver of deforestation behind beef. 

The investigation found there is no traceability system for soya. Local grain wholesalers buy soy from a range of farms. Soya originating from deforested areas tends to be mixed with soybean meal from other regions before being sold. 

Pablo Cortese, from Senasa (National Food Safety and Quality Service) in Argentina, told The Guardian there was no demand from buyers for traceability. “If the big grain traders demanded it, the same way that citrus fruit buyers demand it, Argentina would have no choice but to comply. It’s the buyer who imposes traceability always,” he said.

“It’s too difficult to trace soya in Argentina, so it’s impossible to say, ‘This particular grain of soya came from this particular farm.’” 

Argentina is the world’s largest soya bean meal exporter, responsible for 40% of global trade. The UK imports 55% of its soya bean meal from Argentina, while Italy and Spain import 80% and 74% respectively. 

The UK retailers have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. 

In October 2018, Asda’s sustainability manager Laura Babbs said the retailer was “taking action to make sure all soya used in animal feed in our own brand primary protein products – that’s things like fresh meat, fish and milk – will be responsibly sourced by the end of 2020”. M&S has made a similar pledge. 

Morrisons said it looks to “use supply chain systems which minimise the environmental impact associated with the production of key commodities like soy”. However, it acknowledged the “complex” challenges presented by soy due to its use in animal feed.  

A spokesperson for Tesco told SM: “Tesco is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum and is committed to zero-net deforestation in our sourcing of soy by 2020. As members of the Round Table on Responsible Soy we are collaborating with industry, NGOs, governments to create a sustainable soy market.”

A spokeperson for M&S told The Guardian: “We annually survey our suppliers to ensure they’re working to our standards and understand where they are sourcing soy for animal feed from.

“Our soy policy and supply chain surveys cover soy from Argentina, along with our commitment to zero deforestation. Our annual survey shows that a small proportion of soy used for animal feed in our pork supply chain is sourced from Argentina.”

Peter Andrews, head of sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Our leading supermarket members have committed to sourcing independently certified sustainable soy throughout the supply chain that prohibits deforestation and prevents conversion of high conservation value land, including in Argentina. Soy is an international market and UK retailers are exerting pressure throughout supply chains to ensure standards are properly adhered to and are transparent.”

Asda and Morrisons have been contacted for comment.

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