UK food giants pledge to eliminate deforestation in soy supply chains by 2025

All of the UK's major supermarkets, as well as the likes of Danone, Nestle, Nando's, KFC UK&I and McDonald's UK&I, have signed a new joint commitment to eliminate soy that has resulted in deforestation or land degradation from their animal feed and product supply chains.

UK food giants pledge to eliminate deforestation in soy supply chains by 2025

According to the IPCC

The new UK Soy Manifesto has launched today (9 November) and convenes 27 companies from across the food sector. Collectively, this group of businesses accounts for almost 60% of all soy purchases made by UK businesses each year – predominantly through their animal feed supply chains.

A statement from the initiative reads: “The UK’s consumption of soy – 3.5 million tonnes in 2020 – though small in global terms, is contributing to pressure on biodiverse landscapes such as the Cerrado, the Atlantic Forest, the Gran Chaco and Chiquitania in South America.

“UK consumption of soy in 2017 led to an estimated 3,081 hectares of deforestation, an area twice the size of the City of London Soy is one of the main contributors to the UK’s deforestation and conversion footprint today.”

Included in the Manifesto is an overarching commitment to set “robust” deforestation-free and land-use-conversion-free commitments immediately, so that none of the soy they source can be linked to land clearance undertaken after January 2020. This commitment should be placed into contracts with direct suppliers as soon as possible, with additional financial and educational support to be provided to support suppliers to meet the requirement.  Direct suppliers should be asked to set the same requirements for their suppliers. The end results should be deforestation and destruction-free supply chains by 2025 at the latest.

The Manifesto also requires signatories to publicly report on their progress and to prove that they are improving data collection and reporting approaches.

The Manifesto does not, at present, contain information on how end-user businesses can shift away from the purchase of credits that verify supplier engagement. This is a first step that has already been taken by many signatories. More robust approaches include using mass-balance supply chain models for certification and, of course, sourcing from 100% physically certified farms and avoiding the use of credits altogether.

Companies signed up to the Manifesto are 2 Sisters Food Group; ABP; Aldi; Asda; Avara Foods; the Co-Op; Cranswick; Danish Crown; Danone; Dunbia; Greencore; Hilton Food Group; Iceland; Kepak; KFC UK&I; Lidl; Marks and Spencer; McDonald’s UK&I; Morrisons; Nando’s; Nestle; Ocado; Oscar Mater; Pilgrim’s UK; Sainsbury’s; Tesco and Waitrose & Partners. Tesco has notably been the subject of a high-profile Greenpeace campaign this year, criticising its approach to soy sourcing for animal feed. edie has reached out to Greenpeace for a comment.

John Lewis & Partners owns Waitrose & Partners, and the parent firm’s ethics and sustainability director Marija Rompani called the launch of the manifesto “a truly historic achievement and a clear statement of intent across the UK industry”.

Rompani said: “Protecting nature in regions where agri-commodities are grown is paramount if we are to halt climate change and biodiversity loss, but the scale of the challenge and complexity of global soya supply chains is beyond what any one company alone can solve.

“By acting together, companies in the UK and more broadly can achieve the critical mass needed to help transform the way soya is grown and traded and enable the supply of deforestation-free soya at scale.

“Alongside other national initiatives, due diligence legislation, and the commitments on forests announced by national governments, the finance industry, and agri-commodity traders at COP26, we’re hopeful that this will create a real turning point for nature in precious ecosystems like the Cerrado.”

International commitment 

The launch of the Manifesto coincides with COP26. At the conference in Glasgow last week, the leaders of more than 130 nations that collectively host more than 90% of the world’s forests signed a new declaration to end deforestation and land-use change by 2030 and to begin restoration at scale by this point if possible. 

Then, 45 nations signed on to a new Policy Action Agenda, designed to help policymakers make the necessary changes to deliver a food system that is not only low-carbon and deforestation-free, but that supports farmers and others across the food chain; consumes less water and chemicals and produces less waste.

These moves have been widely welcomed by the green economy globally and the inclusion of a provision for smallholder farmers and Indigenous peoples were highlighted, in particular. 

UK approach 

From the UK specifically, it has been confirmed that a £500m package from the £3bn pledged for International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity will be used to conserve five million hectares of rainforest. The UK Government is expecting this package to also leverage £1bn of private sector investment.

On soy supply chains, the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last year proposed legislation designed to eliminate all illegal deforestation from the international supply chains of commodities with a high forest risk. Materials covered include soy, palm oil, cocoa, beef, rubber and leather alongside forestry products like wood and paper. Corporations procuring these materials in the UK will be subject to a “comply or explain” requirement to prove their supply chains are free from illegal deforestation. Non-compliance will result in fines.

Green groups, businesses, academics, scientists and others have all called for the legislation to be strengthened to also include deforestation that is technically still legal. This is because many key producing regions have lax laws. Defra staff are understood to be pushing for final sign-off on the Environment Bill, which contains the legislation, by the end of the year. 

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie