Waking up to soy: will new commitments get us closer to the 2020 deadline?

Sarah Rogerson and Stuart Singleton-White

Both Tesco UK and Louis Dreyfus (one of the largest soy traders) have unveiled new policies to tackle deforestation in their soy supply chains. These announcements send an important message to the rest of the sector which to date has lagged behind others including palm oil and timber (Figure 1). Whilst these are welcome announcements the clock is ticking on the deadline for implementing zero deforestation commitments for companies.

Figure 1: data from Forest 500 assessments shows that uptake of commitments on soy lags behind that of timber and palm oil, and is too slow for the 2020 deadlines. Source: Forest 500 Report 2017

The problem

Soy production is one of the key drivers of deforestation in South America, where soy production is expanding into recently cleared forest and savannah habitat, including the biodiverse Cerrado in Brazil.

Until recently, consumer-awareness was limited to forest-related commitments such as the Soy Moratorium, but much less on the issues around native vegetation conservation, particularly in savannah areas such as the Cerrado.

More than three-quarters of soy grown around the world is used for animal feed, rather than for direct human consumption. Consequently, Tesco’s pledge to start sustainably sourcing the animal feed used for their meat products is an important one.

Whole supply chain effort

What is promising about these announcements, is that they have come from companies operating in different parts of the supply chain; Tesco being a downstream retailer and Louis Dreyfus being an upstream soy trader. Pressure and collaboration is needed from all directions to drive the rapid and real change that is required.

Trase data shows that only six traders control almost 60% of the Brazilian soy trade and therefore hold a huge amount of power over the supply chain. Louis Dreyfus is the first of these traders to expand their commitment toward sustainable soy, to include protection of ecosystems outside of the Amazon.

In the past, Forest 500 and others have criticised retailer policies on soy for not demanding deforestation-free soy from upstream traders, or for not extending their demands beyond soy covered by the Soy Moratorium. Analysis of 30 commitments from soy companies operating in Brazil found that none of the companies’ policies extended beyond forest habitats and only one fifth of policies cover all locations where the companies operate.

The development of a more comprehensive policy from Louis Dreyfus is an important step in the right direction. It shows that the manufacturers and retailers that source from these big traders can, and should, be demanding better from their suppliers.

Retailers and manufacturers should no longer accept that improvements in policies and practices are too difficult, if Louis Dreyfus can do it, so can the other traders.

But policies are only the first step

The current implementation gap means that despite growing numbers of commitments from companies, tree cover loss is still too high. We are fast-approaching the 2020 deadline that Tesco and other retailers signed up to as part of the Consumer Goods Forum commitment for zero net deforestation.

How these policies are implemented over the next few years will be pivotal.

Tesco’s timeline for zero deforestation soy already looks beyond 2020 –with a target to source only from verified zero deforestation areas by 2025. This reflects the message from many that action has not been happening fast enough and we are going to miss the 2020 deforestation target deadlines.

We must work together across the whole supply chain to ensure updated timelines beyond 2020 stand firm. Companies must act on their commitments now.