Commodities such as beef, soya and cocoa can be impacted by illegal deforestation © AFP/Getty Images
Commodities such as beef, soya and cocoa can be impacted by illegal deforestation © AFP/Getty Images

Why new law on forest commodities doesn't go far enough

Brands including McDonald’s, Nestlé and Tesco, have urged the UK government to strengthen its potential legislation on due diligence and deforestation. 

Over 20 firms signed an open letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, calling for the department to “go further” with its proposed bill to clamp down on illegal deforestation.

Under rules proposed by the government in August, businesses operating in the UK could be fined if they failed to carry out due diligence to ensure commodities –  beef/leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp/paper, timber, rubber, and soya – were free from illegal deforestation. 

In the letter addressed to environment secretary George Eustice on the final day of the consultation on the bill, firms said this should be extended to cover all forms of deforestation. 

The letter, which was also signed by firms including Aldi, Nandos and Unilever, said: “Restricting action to illegal deforestation only would not achieve halting the loss of these natural ecosystems, especially when producing country governments have discretion to decide what is legal or have inadequate enforcement mechanisms, and local land title and clearance records can be unreliable or absent.”

The firms said they recognised the “critical role” played by the private sector in addressing global deforestation and supported the government’s efforts to “set a level playing field where sustainable commodities are the norm throughout the UK and beyond”.

Firms said they had been working with supply chains to collect and verify information on the origin and quality of at-risk commodities, but there “continues to be a significant barrier in supply chain transparency where many companies are unwilling or are unable to provide the details of their suppliers or the sourcing”.

As part of tougher measures, firms called on the government to “directly obligate materials suppliers or traders in or importing into the UK to disclose the required supply chain information to their customers”.

They also called for thresholds to be based on the “volume of material and not the size of the company” and should clearly capture consumer goods manufactured overseas that include forest commodities. 

“In many cases you may have a smaller business importing a low value material – such as rubber – that is imported at much greater volumes than by some of our companies,” the firms argued.

“The most efficient response is to ensure that the first importers of raw materials over a certain volume, rather than purely by company size, are included in scope, and that no UK-based company can use offshore manufacturing to avoid the new requirements.”

The firms also called for the implementation of sector specific requirements, incentivisation for good behaviour and to allow for remediation. 

Meanwhile, M&S announced it had completely eliminated soya from the production of all its milk as part of efforts to end deforestation in its supply chain. 

The retailer worked with 44 British farmers that produce its milk to replace soya-based animal feed with alternatives such as rapeseed oil and sugar beet, which will avoid almost 4,000 tonnes of soya being used each year. 

Paul Willgoss, M&S food’s director of technology, said: “Soya is widely used in animal feed across the industry because it’s fast-growing and protein-rich, but we’re all aware of the devastating impact its use is having on Brazilian forests. 

“Our absolute priority as a business is to eliminate deforestation from the production of our products and to get there, we’re looking at both reducing our reliance on soya and finding more responsible ways of sourcing it.”

However campaigners have warned the shift from soya to other crops could just “shift the problem elsewhere”. 

Anna Jones, head of forests at Greenpeace UK, told The Guardian: “Switching soya for other crops in the animal feed mix and selling meat and dairy at the same or even greater volumes will just shift that land use problem elsewhere. Our health, the stability of the climate and the future of the world’s forests depends on us eating less meat and dairy, meaning what supermarkets must urgently do is to begin replacing them with plant-based options.”

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