Global uptake of deforestation-free soy is growing very slowly

Deforestation-free and organic soy is only slowly making progress. A new report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) shows that the global uptake of soy sourced under RTRS, ProTerra or organic certification has increased only marginally between 2006 and 2018. In 2018, these three standards only made up 1.8% of the global soy production.

The authors of the report argue that ‘Overall, low demand for Voluntary Sustainability Standard-compliant soybeans is one of the main causes behind its slow growth. Another factor that might have influenced this limited uptake in recent years is that the main soybean traders and processors have also developed their own schemes. These include the Cargill Triple S, the Amaggi Responsible Soy Standard, and Bunge Pro-S.‘

‘These schemes offer a potentially lower cost,’ says Michel Riemersma, agrocommodity expert at IUCN NL and one of the peer reviewers of the report. ‘But also lower quality alternatives to sourcing soybeans that are compliant with more robust, independent, third-party verified schemes.’

Lack of robustness and transparency

The report shows that around 85% of soybean production is destined for the animal feed industry. Because of the multitude of schemes in the soy sector and the confusion over their quality, in 2019 IUCN NL has asked Profundo to benchmark those standards the European animal feed sector has marked as sufficient. Combining the quality of their criteria and certification requirements, RTRS scored best in this benchmark, closely followed by some others. ‘Not only the minimum criteria applied in its certification process, but also the robustness of a Voluntary Sustainability Standard (VSS) verification system and its transparency are of crucial importance,‘ says Michel Riemersma. Due to a lack of transparency, it is unknown how much soy is produced under most of the lower-quality VSSs of the traders.

Improve sustainability in the soy sector

As the 2019 benchmark shows, only 6 of the 17 VSSs that are compliant with the soy sourcing guidelines of the European feed manufacturers’ association (FEFAC) can be considered as verified deforestation-free.

Currently, FEFAC is updating its soy sourcing guidelines. ‘The improvement of some criteria, and offering insight in the requirements on deforestation or conversion is a step in the right direction,’ Riemersma says. ‘But it’s not enough. These times require deforestation and conversion free sourcing. By making this an essential criterion, these guidelines would be better aligned with upcoming EU legislation on deforestation-free supply chains. If VSS owners do not improve their criteria and verification, they are at risk of becoming obsolete, as importing companies will not be able to use them to comply with European legislation and their own deforestation & conversion free commitments.’

Raising the bar

‘Deforestation and conversion-free soy production and sourcing still has a long way to go,’ says Michel Riemersma, who together with Heleen Van den Hombergh reviewed the IISD study, which made use of the IUCN NL benchmark of soy standards and the 2019 European Soy Monitor (IUCN NL and IDH) . ‘IUCN NL supports the transition to deforestation-and conversion free and sustainable soy, in which robust standard systems are tools for verification among others. We promote the uptake of robust VSSs, and their translation into mandatory conditions for the European feed sector to raise the bar for sustainability in the soy sector.’