Soya supplied to brands linked to 'wholesale forest destruction'

30 November 2020

Soya feed sourced by food giant Cargill has been linked to forest fires and deforestation in Brazil, according to a report. 

An investigation by a coalition of journalism groups – Greenpeace’s Unearthed, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), The Guardian and ITV News – found soya chicken feed used by Cargill was linked to forest loss in the Cerrado region. 

Footage obtained in the investigation in October showed huge fires – often set to clear woodland for growing crops – on a farm which supplies Cargill with soya.

The report said there had been over 12,000 recorded fires on land used or owned by Cargill soya suppliers since 2015 in the Cerrado region, as well as 800 sq km of deforestation.

Chicken sold by supermarkets and fast food restaurants including Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando’s and McDonalds – who are supplied by Cargill – could be unethically produced due to the feed used, said Unearthed.

Chris Packham, broadcaster and campaigner at Unearthed, said UK consumers needed to be given more information about food supply chains as their purchases could have “far and wide, and enormously damaging” implications, possibly contributing to “one of the largest wholesale tropical forest destructions in recent times”.

Nando’s told the investigation that its soya is from Brazil and Paraguay, while Tesco admitted that some Cargill soya comes from the Cerrado, which covers 20% of Brazil. 

Cargill told Unearthed that “it broke no rules, nor its own policies, by sourcing from the farm in question and made clear it does not source from illegally-deforested land”.   

The firm was the largest direct importer of Brazilian soya to the UK between 2014 and 2020 at 1.5m tonnes.

In 2010, Cargill set a deadline to end deforestation in its supply chain by 2020. Last year it extended this deadline to 2030.

Efforts were made by the firm in 2017 to map forest loss across nearly 2,000 sourcing locations in its supply chains. It said that it was working with 15,000 soya farmers in Brazil to implement sustainable land use programmes. 

However, the investigation has revealed gaps in supply chain governance, with one Cargill supplier saying Cargill had never talked to them about sustainability, nor audited their properties.

While new government measures are being put in place to prevent deforestation in British supply chains, campaigners have raised concerns that the legislation is not strong enough as they can be overridden by local laws in places such as the Cerrado, where “significant” deforestation is permitted.

In October brands including Tesco, Nando’s and McDonald's urged the UK government to take action as the “law didn’t go far enough”.

Kate Norgrove, director of campaigns at WWF-UK, said: “Although an important first step, the proposed approach to due diligence, relying on local laws, will not be enough. We need a legally binding UK target to end all deforestation and habitat destruction in precious landscapes like the Cerrado through our imports.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told Unearthed the proposed legislation was one piece of a “much larger package of measures” to tackle the issue.

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