Benchmark report on responsible soy. Photo by Meredith Petrick on Unsplash

Updated soy standard benchmark report: setting a new bar for deforestation and conversion free soy in Europe

How do soy sustainability standards perform against deforestation-free, environmental, social and other sustainability criteria? Building on an earlier, authoritative report from 2019, Profundo aims to provide clarity on this with a new benchmark report. WWF Germany and IUCN NL commissioned the updated report and provided an introduction to discuss the relevance of this extended update. With an increasing global demand for the feed-fuel-food crop, sustainable, and not just deforestation-free soy production, is a must to conserve biodiversity, mitigate climate change and respect human rights.  

Header photo: Field of soy plants © Meredith Petrick on Unsplash

EU Deforestation Regulation

During 2023 and 2024, the soy sector is preparing for compliance with the new EU Deforestation Regulation, driven by the societal quest for conversion free, legally produced, traceable soy. How can we – literally – blend in sustainability values into soy value chains, including the issues that currently almost seem to be forgotten, such as responsible chemicals, soil and water management, labour, community relations and transparent governance? The report “Setting a new bar for deforestation and conversion free soy in Europe” seeks to give supply chain partners, policy makers and NGOs a heads up on the important features of soy standards to not just help comply with EU regulatory basics but support responsible soy production instead.

The December 2023 version attached is slightly adapted compared to August 2023 version.

Almost all standards have become more robust since 2019, when the previous benchmark was published. An update on particularly the standards’ adaptation to EUDR traceability and information requirements is foreseen in 2024, before the regulation enters into implementation, as various standards are still working on this.

Global soy production

Compared to palm oil, the large footprint of soy has so far been less prominently discussed. Nonetheless, 388 million tonnes of soybeans are grown on approximately 130 million hectares worldwide (FAOSTAT 2021, European Soy Monitor 2021). By far the biggest part of the world’s soy production is used as animal feed: 75%. Soy is therefore often present in products such as chicken, farmed fish, eggs and yoghurt, even though it is not on the ingredients list. Global demand for low-cost feed for intensive livestock production has contributed, alongside other factors, to the rapid loss of some of the world’s most essential and biodiverse ecosystems. And as the world population continues to grow, soy production is expected to continue to increase. How can this be done more responsibly?

Responsible soy in context: the view of IUCN NL

As IUCN NL we are convinced that, in addition to a better balance between animal- and plant-based protein diets, deforestation and conversion free sustainable soy production is a must for climate, nature and responsible social relations. Soy sustainability standards among others have an important role to play in EUDR compliant, sustainable supply chains, but also as supportive tools for responsible production in landscape programmes. Segregated EUDR compliant certified supply, but also mixing of sustainably certified into EUDR compliant supply both have a role to play, next to a third model: direct support to responsible farming in specific (risk) landscapes, by means of targeted credits. This means that not just traceability but also the direct translation of sustainability values into certified, duly verified production has a key role to play, to build up scale and volume of responsible soy where it counts. 40 % of European soy use is certified by a FEFAC standard, why take a step back on quality, especially now FEFAC SGG also support conversion free production?

This three-tiered strategy (segregated and mixed certification of EUDR compliant supply, plus targeted credits as tools in (risk) landscape programmes) is even more relevant as the EUDR risks to lead to buyers’ abandonment of conversion risk areas and farmers. Self-evidently, more tools than this are needed to combat deforestation and conversion, restore landscapes and social relations.

Back to the report: assessment criteria

The new benchmark report assesses twenty voluntary standard systems (VVS) that were benchmarked against the European Feed Manufacturers Soy Sourcing Guidelines (FEFAC SSG), and the SGG themselves,  against a wide range of environmental, social and governance criteria. The updated criteria consider current best practices, market expectations, and the changed regulatory environment.

The 47 assessment criteria are categorised per theme:

  • Avoiding deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems;
  • Avoiding degradation of natural ecosystems and biodiversity loss;
  • Social issues and human rights;
  • Traceability;                     
  • Governance and level of assurance.

More information?