Voluntary standards are insufficient to stop soy-related deforestation

June 2019

By Michel Riemersma and Retno Kusumaningtyas

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado is surging, with the increasing acreage needed for soy cultivation as one of the key drivers. A significant share of all soy is exported to feed livestock in Europe, China and other overseas markets, to satisfy the growing demand for meat and dairy. Realizing their responsibility, foreign companies and governments have adopted commitments which aim to ensure that all soy processing in Europe will be deforestation-free in the near future. The New York Declaration on Forests adopted in 2014 by governments, multinational enterprises, indigenous communities and NGOs strives “to halve deforestation by 2020 and to end it by 2030”. A similar commitment was made by the 2015 Amsterdam Declaration Partnership to which seven European countries are now signatories In response to these statements, an increasing number of commodity traders, feed producers and consumer goods companies have committed to only source deforestation-free soy by 2020.

The mechanisms to fulfil these commitments seem to be insufficient, however. On behalf of IUCN NL, Profundo recently conducted a benchmark study on soy sourcing standards which comply with the FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines. These are guidelines drafted by the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) as minimum criteria for the sourcing of soy, to avoid illegal deforestation and other sustainability risks. For the eighteen standards that are FEFAC-compliant, Profundo assessed if they include sufficient criteria to avoid deforestation, to avoid degradation of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas and other natural areas, and to avoid wetland conversion. In addition, the study tried also to assess the standards’ level of assurance.

The benchmark shows that a weak point of the FEFAC Guidelines is that they require the standards to follow national laws with regard to deforestation. As a result, ten out of eighteen standards still allow deforestation which is not illegal in the country of operation. All standards provide some protection of HCV areas, but none has included all provisions deemed necessary by IUCN NL. Only seven standards have included all provisions which are necessary to effectively prevent wetland conversion.

Standards should not only include provisions on avoiding deforestation, degradation of HCV areas and wetland conversion, but should also be able to assure that companies in the soy supply chain actually apply these criteria in daily practice. However, the FEFAC Guidelines cannot optimally guarantee the robustness and overall level of assurance of the different standards. This can especially create false expectations when standards are applied by soy producing companies operating in countries where public enforcement and monitoring mechanisms are weak.

Among the eighteen soy standards, the certification standards of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC Plus) offer the best guarantee for deforestation-free soy. RTRS scores highest on the level of assurance, while ISCC Plus scores highest on its provisions to avoid deforestation, biodiversity degradation and wetland conversion.

In another report commissioned by IDH and IUCN NL, Profundo has mapped the European consumption of soy certified by any of the eighteen standards compliant with the FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines. Based on conservative estimates only 7.6 million tons (22%) of the total European soy consumption in 2017 complied with the FEFAC Guidelines. Only 4.5 million tons (13% of the total) can be considered deforestation-free, as this soy consumption was certified by the standards RTRS, SFAP-Non Conversion, ProTerra, Danube/Europe soy, ISCC Plus and CRS which exclude all forms of deforestation. This leaves 26.8 million tonnes of European soy consumption in 2017 that are not covered by any standard or that are covered by a standard that still allows deforestation if it is not prohibited by national laws.

Soy sourcing standards need to improve their criteria on avoiding deforestation, wetland conversion and degradation of HCV areas, and should increase their level of assurance. To meet the commitments made in the New York Declaration on Forests and the Amsterdam Declaration, soy sourcing standards should not rely on legal compliance alone. Where laws are weak or enforcement is lacking, governments and companies in the soy supply chain should only rely on standards that guarantee that all deforestation - also when it is not prohibited by national laws - is excluded.

Photo: Pedarilhos

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