Supermarkets account for two-thirds of UK soya imports © In Pictures Ltd./Corbis/Getty Images
Supermarkets account for two-thirds of UK soya imports © In Pictures Ltd./Corbis/Getty Images

Food firms have 'no control over soya supply chains'

Major food businesses do not understand and cannot control their supply of soya, with devastating consequences for deforestation in the developing world, according to a report.

Greenpeace said Tesco, M&S and Asda were among firms who had “no oversight, no traceability and no control over their soya supply chains”, with soya animal feed sources linked to deforestation.

The charity’s report surveyed 23 UK retailers, restaurants, manufacturers and food outlets on soya usage and found none could not guarantee soya was sustainably sourced, with many leading supermarkets buying from commodities companies involved in destruction of forests or other habitats in the Brazilian Cerrado, including firms Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill.

Only nine of the 23 firms fully disclosed soya usage, overall meat sales and sales of chicken, pork and beef. These were Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, Marks and Spencer, Lidl, Iceland, Costa Coffee, Co-op, and Aldi, while Sainsbury’s and Asda only partially disclosed data. 

None of the food companies surveyed had a monitoring system to map its supply chain and provide traceable data to show where soya was being grown or who produced it, despite firms such as Lidl and Asda making soya sustainability commitments in 2018. 

Supermarkets did not have the data to show exact amounts of soya usage in meat supply chains due to a lack of traceability. Instead, firms relied on industry averages to estimate soya quantities based on meat sales. 

According to the report, Tesco told Greenpeace: “Soy from many different farms is typically mixed… this makes traceability to individual farm level extremely challenging and not practical.”

Waitrose told Greenpeace: “Unfortunately, we do not have visibility of all supply chains that traders and producer groups are involved in, and cannot demonstrate full compliance in their operations that we are not sourcing from.”

According to the report, 68% of annual UK soya imports come from South America where the crop is driving deforestation. The 10 major supermarkets alone use an estimated 1.85m tonnes of soya a year, amounting to two-thirds of UK annual imports.

The report found that 12 of the firms contacted – 2 Sisters, Avara Foods, Birds Eye, Burger King, Greggs, KFC, McDonald’s, Moy Park, Nando’s, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Subway – could not or would not disclose any soya usage or meat sales data.

Responses from supermarkets suggested they had no credible plan to eliminate deforestation, said Greenpeace.

Retailers have been promoting poultry products due to concerns around red meat and health and its impact on the environment, said the NGO.

Chiara Vitali, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said high street food giants’ business models were “incompatible with protecting our planet for future generations, which makes them incredibly high-risk companies”.

Greenpeace called for food brands to disclose meat sales and soya consumption publically, to set year-on-year targets to reduce sales of meat and dairy and replace them with plant-based foods, and to only source soya and other commodities from deforestation-free suppliers.

Vitali said: “For too long the impact on our planet of growing crops for UK chicken feed has been overlooked. A straight swap from beef to chicken effectively amounts to outsourcing emissions of our meat consumption from the UK to South America. 

“The simple truth is, we cannot continue to consume any type of industrially-produced meat in the volumes we currently are. It’s why we’re calling on companies to set clear meat reduction targets and be transparent about where their animal feed comes from.”

The report comes amid ongoing concerns around the sustainability of soya production. In October 2019, retailers were called out for use of the commodity produced in farms linked to deforestation in Argentina.

In September 2019 fast food chains Burger King and McDonald's were found to be sourcing cattle from ranches that used deforested land for grazing cows.

John Perry, managing director at consultancy Scala, said: “If a supplier’s practices relating to human rights, labour standards or – as in this case - environmental protection are found to be substandard, it is the customer company that will be held to account, as we’ve seen with the negative practices of major UK supermarkets, such as Tesco, highlighted in this latest research. 

“Businesses should therefore only partner with suppliers that share the same sustainability values and goals as they do, wherever possible. Establishing and communicating expectations through a supplier code of conduct is one of the most effective ways for businesses to involve their supply chain partners in their sustainability efforts.”

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