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Soy the forgotten commodity with a “catastrophic” impact

Campaigners have called on the UK government to make a commitment to sourcing sustainably-produced soy as new research highlights the devastating footprint the commodity leaves.

In a new report, “Risky Business”, WWF and the RSPB illustrate how demand for soy has driven “catastrophic loss” of Brazil’s vast tropical savannah the Cerrado. More than half soy imports are to feed livestock, but the commodity is also embedded in livestock imports, soy sauce and biodiesel.

Imports of soy are three times higher than for palm oil, for example, and yet soy has received “much less attention and action”, the groups said.

“UK soy imports have an estimated footprint of 1.68m ha per year – with a high proportion (77%) coming from high-risk countries. However, it hasn’t yet seen widespread attention or action.”

Credible certification standards developed by the Roundtable for Responsible Soy and ProTerra have been available for around a decade, they noted, but “haven’t seen notable uptake”.

Indeed, a report published by WWF last year highlighted how foodservice firms, in particular, were hiding from their “massive responsibility” to source sustainable soy.

The new report also details the environmental impact of a number of other key commodities imported into the UK, including beef and leather, cocoa, pulp and paper, rubber and timber. To supply these seven commodities requires a land area more than half the size of the UK – a total of 13.6 million hectares. More than 40% of the UK’s overseas land footprint (nearly six million hectares) is in countries at high or very high risk of deforestation, weak governance and poor labour standards, said WWF and RSPB.

They urged businesses to make clear, time-bound commitments to eliminate illegal and unsustainable sources of these commodities in their supply chains.

Last week, 23 global companies, including McDonald’s, Tesco and Nando’s, pledged to accelerate progress towards deforestation-free supply chains.

Lang Banks, director of advocacy at WWF, said the UK government must also consider these offshored impacts in its long-awaited 25-year environment plan.

“This report only considers seven key commodities, so if we factor in others such as rice, coffee, tea then the size of our impact is likely to be even greater,” he explained. “Global trade is vital, but we need the UK government, business and the public to step up to the plate and play a crucial part in realising the scale of impact we are having on our world, and to protect it for future generations.”

On soy, the campaigners said no reliable data is available on what proportion of UK imports is certified sustainable. They called for UK government action through “similar steps” to the 2015 palm oil commitment.