Only 19% of European soy use is verified deforestation-free

Header photo: Deforestation for soy production in Mato Grosso, Brazil © Jan Gillhuis / Solidaridad

Deforestation-free soy is only slowly making progress in Europe. The new European Soy Monitor , published last week by IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, shows that in 2018 only 19% of European soy use was verified deforestation-free.

The European Soy Monitor provides an overview on the current soy statistics and the state of relevant initiatives in producer countries and in Europe. Looking at soybean meal consumption in 2018 in Europe, IDH concludes that 38% was compliant with the European feed manufacturers’ own Soy Sourcing Guidelines (FEFAC SSG) and 19% was certified by the deforestation free standards that comply with these guidelines, including RTRS, Pro Terra, Donau Soja and others.

‘Deforestation and conversion-free soy production and sourcing still has a long way to go,’ says Heleen van den Hombergh, senior expert agro commodities at IUCN NL. ‘As shown by the IUCN NL benchmark of soy sourcing certification it is crucial that the FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines be amended with a long term and ambitious vision on combatting ecosystem conversion. On top of this, the FEFAC requirements on transparency and on assurance should improve for the standard systems to be considered trustworthy by a wider range of stakeholders and have real impact on the ground. Verification is essential and should not be wavered for countries or areas that are considered to be low-risk territories. We say: verified responsible, wherever it comes from. Including Europe.’

Hard to compare data

Last year, IUCN NL and IDH jointly published the first European Soy Monitor  with data covering 2017. The second edition of the European Soy Monitor was released last week by IDH, without IUCN NL.

IUCN NL welcomes the fact that IDH takes forward the monitoring process that we have started together and that is so important to inform policy. However, due to methodological differences, it is hard to assess the progress made by the animal feed industry in sourcing FEFAC-certified and deforestation-free soy.

Methodological differences

As opposed to the previous report, internationally consumed embedded soy in livestock products is not taken into account for calculating the certified percentages. For example, Dutch meat export to China is left out of the equation. Van den Hombergh explains: ‘This means that producers are not being held accountable for their export activities, while the deforestation can be embedded in both the domestically and internationally consumed livestock products. We should account for all we process and trade’

Certified soy not sold as such was taken into account in this report. The Monitor claims that “of the 38% (11.3 million tonnes) SSG compliant soy consumed in Europe, an estimated 6 million tonnes [53%] were not sold as certified”. It does indeed count most what happens with sustainability criteria on the ground, but the Monitor rightly concludes that “it is important to note that large certified volumes ending up in conventional chains will limit the growth of sustainable production” as this fails to deliver any premium or praise to the farmer. Also, selling sustainability certificates at rock bottom prices does not stimulate the farmers to go the extra mile.

Towards zero deforestation

Methodological differences aside, the Monitor clearly shows that it is very unlikely that the EU will achieve the 2020-goal to reach zero deforestation related soy consumption set by the Netherlands and six other countries in the Amsterdam Declaration Partnership.

The EU is embarking upon banning deforestation from its trade, but voluntary measures alone move too slowly. That is why for soy and other commodities that have a huge impact on valuable ecosystems it is important to create a level playing field by EU finance and trade legislation with minimum due diligence criteria. Strong sustainability standards could then be used as examples and help with a company’s proof of conduct.

We call on retailers, traders, financiers and governments to set the bar on deforestation and conversion free responsible soy: in sourcing requirements, in investment and lending criteria, and in policies and regulations.