In a significant development for rainforest protection, Greenpeace and major UK food companies have joined forces to broker a two year moratorium on multinational traders buying soy from newly deforested land in the Amazon rainforest.
Soy production has been one of the main drivers of Amazon destruction in recent years. The deal, signed in Brazil, is a welcome step forward but Greenpeace is warning that it will only prove to be a major breakthrough if real action is taken on the ground.
The deal follows publication in April of a Greenpeace investigation into the impacts of the soy trade in the Amazon. McDonald’s and other leading European food retailers subsequently formed a unique alliance with Greenpeace to demand action from soy traders to stop deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Demand for soy-based animal feed – used in meat production – is fueling Amazon destruction. As a result of pressure from the alliance, US commodities giants Cargill, ADM, Bunge, French-owned Dreyfus, and Brazilian-owned Amaggi – which between them account for the majority of the soy trade in Brazil – were brought to the negotiating table.
The soy traders have been discussing an initiative proposed by Greenpeace and the food companies that includes criteria designed to boost the Brazilian Government’s efforts to stop deforestation, enforce governance, protect critical habitats, and safeguard the lands of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.
The soy traders commitment to a limited two year moratorium risks being no more than a token gesture, unless the traders deliver real change to protect the Amazon. Greenpeace is demanding that the moratorium stays until proper procedures for legality and governance are in place and until there is an agreement with the Brazilian Government and key stakeholders on long term protection for the Amazon rainforest. A working group will be established, made up of soy traders, producers, NGOs, and government to put in place an action plan.
The soy traders’ statement follows a three year Greenpeace investigation into the negative impacts of soy in the Amazon. Soy is the leading cash crop in Brazil and soy farming – much of it illegal – is now one of the biggest drivers, along with cattle ranching and illegal logging, of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Violent conflict over illegally cleared land is not uncommon. Most of this soy is exported to Europe to feed chicken, pigs and cows for meat products.
"The part played by food companies selling products which have a direct link to Amazon deforestation for soy has been crucial in bringing the big soy traders to the negotiating table. Now the challenge is for the soy trade to deliver real on the ground results to protect the Amazon rainforest from destruction," said Gerd Leipold, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
A McDonald’s statement says: "When we were first alerted to this issue by Greenpeace, we immediately reached out to our suppliers, other NGOs and other companies to resolve this issue and take action… We are determined to do the right thing together with our suppliers and the Brazilian government, to protect the Amazon from further destruction…
"The two-year time frame set for the initiative is, we hope, indicative of the sense of urgency with which the soy traders wish to implement the governance program and all of its conditions. We expect that should some of the measures take longer than the stated two years to implement, the moratorium would remain in existence until all commitments have been fulfilled." McDonald’s has already committed to removing Amazon-sourced soy from its chicken supply chain.
The Amazon is not only the most bio-diverse region on the planet but is also important for the regulation of the climate and for the lives of millions of people living there. Yet because of unprecedented levels of destruction for agricultural commodities like soy, an area of the Amazon the size of five football pitches has been lost every minute over the last 10 years.
Greenpeace Brazil Executive Director, Frank Guggenheim said, "We need to keep pushing for an agreement that will really protect the future of the rainforest and the Amazon people. Disputes over land and forest resources have not only destroyed large areas of the Amazon but also claimed thousands of lives. soy traders must now help bring governance and environmental protection to the entire region".
All of the food companies calling for action to protect the rainforest have also pledged to continue their demands for non-genetically modified (GM) soy from their suppliers. Greenpeace will continue to campaign against the use of GM crops within the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere.
Ian Bowles, Head of CSR at ASDA Wal-Mart said, "We want to ensure that our suppliers source products for us in a sustainable way. ASDA Wal-Mart believes that protecting ancient forests is of critical importance and fully supports this imitative to stop the ongoing deforestation and soy farming within the Amazon rainforest.
"To help this initiative succeed we should also look to develop an economic mechanism to reward countries that are prepared to safeguard ancient forests like the Amazon biome. This will provide a longer term solution that protects ancient rainforests from destruction, without hindering the economic development of countries like Brazil."
In a statement Waitrose said, "We share the concerns raised by Greenpeace about unsustainable logging and planting practices which in Amazônia are contributing to the large scale deforestation of the rainforest. Waitrose takes the responsible sourcing of its products very seriously and is pleased to work closely with Greenpeace on this matter."
Mike Barry, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Marks & Spencer said: "We welcome Greenpeace’s efforts and are actively working with them and our suppliers to find more sustainable sourcing options for soy to better protect the Amazon biome, help economic development in Brazil and enable us to continue delivering excellent products to our customers."
Greenpeace – www.greenpeace.org