You may not know, but some of the everyday items we innocently consume are indirectly fueling the destruction of the Amazon.
British farms that supply milk and dairy products for Cathedral City Cheddar, Anchor Butter and Cadbury Chocolate are feeding their cattle soy from a controversial agribusiness accused of widespread deforestation in Brazil.
The complex soy supply chains that link British dairy products to environmental degradation thousands of miles away in Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado regions were identified by an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism together with Greenpeace Unearthed, Repórter Brasil, Daily Mirror and ITV News uncovered.
Both areas are of vital importance for biodiversity and the fight against climate change. The Cerrado region, where most of Brazil’s soy is grown, is home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species.
Anna Jones, Greenpeace UK chief forestry officer, said: “Many people will be appalled to hear that their cheese and butter have been linked to the destruction of forests on the other side of the Atlantic.
“And yet, huge chunks of Brazilian forests and other vital ecosystems are still being cut down to grow tons and tons of soy which will then be fed to chickens, pigs and dairy cows in the UK. The global meat and dairy industry is exacerbating the climate and natural emergency, and it must stop. “
She added that the UK government should “seize the opportunity to end deforestation in UK supply chains” by putting in place a strong deforestation law and meat and dairy reduction strategy in line with climate science.
“This would set a clear benchmark for world leaders to follow.”
The investigation revealed how farms that sell milk to Cadbury, Saputo, the UK’s largest branded cheese maker, and Arla, which makes Anchor Butter and supplies milk to Asda, get some of their animal feed from companies that buy Brazilian soy, which is made by the US grain giant Cargill.
Cargill, the world’s largest food company, was previously faced with allegations that its soy has been linked to deforestation.
Last year, an investigation found 800 square kilometers of deforestation and more than 12,000 registered fires on land used or owned by a handful of soy suppliers in the Cerrado since 2015.
The company dominates the UK soy trade and controls about 70% of the market. More than 100,000 tons of soybeans are shipped to Great Britain every year from the Brazilian region of Cerrado alone.
The bureau found that one of Cargill’s largest suppliers, Grupo Scheffer, was responsible for several incidents of environmental damage, including the clearing of tropical forest areas.
A team of rapporteurs on the ground in the Cerrado found that the recent deforestation was linked to a soybean farmer selling to the Brazilian agricultural empire.
Grupo Scheffer, one of the largest soy producers in Brazil, which processed more than 560,000 tons of soy, corn and cotton last year, was responsible for a number of environmental violations. In 2019, the company was fined more than $ 450,000 for illegally clearing more than 5 square kilometers of protective forest.
Since 2008, the producer has been clearing at least 24 square kilometers of forest in order to expand its activities, according to an analysis by the Aidenvironment group. The organization used satellite imagery to quantify slash and burn activity within the boundaries of at least 21 farms leased from Grupo Scheffer or registered for the company and its shareholders.
The research also raises questions about Cargill’s sustainable soy certification.
The Triple-S program is hailed as an environmentally friendly option by some food companies, although it allows deforestation-free soy to be blended with beans from non-certified sources, which may include farms involved in forest destruction.
The UK dairy industry used an estimated 360,000 tonnes of soy from countries such as Brazil, Argentina and the USA as animal feed in 2019. That amount is only dwarfed by the use of soy in the poultry sector, making dairy farms the UK’s second largest soy-based feed.
Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Secretary for Green Transport and MP for Bristol East, said: “These revelations are further evidence that overseas deforestation is deeply anchored in UK supply chains and everyday supermarket products.
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“What’s even more shocking is that much of this logging was legal under local law. The government knows this is a huge problem, but their own proposals to remove deforestation from the supply chains only apply when that deforestation is illegal. “
A Cargill spokesperson said: “Cargill has worked tirelessly to build a more sustainable soy supply chain that will help address the urgent challenge of protecting native forests and vegetation while serving farmers and their communities.
Grupo Scheffer said it has been growing soybeans for 30 years. “During this time we have grown and developed in a responsible way, always respecting practices that guarantee the longevity of the soil and the environment,” the company said.
Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working together to fight deforestation and encourage greater uptake of certified sustainable soy in their supply chains.”
Saputo, who makes Cathedral City Cheese, said: “Starting in early 2022, our Davidstow Farm Standards will require all farms supplying Saputo Dairy UK’s Davidstow Creamery to source feed from suppliers with a sustainable soy purchasing policy.”
The company said it had bought loans over the past two years to help producers responsibly growing soy.
An Asda spokesman said, “We understand the importance of sustainable soy to our customers and are committed to reducing deforestation-related food production.” The company said it was working with suppliers on a plan to ensure that its all soy is “physically certified” by 2025.
Arla said it did not recognize Cargills Triple S as “a certification that meets our responsible manufacturing requirements”. A spokesman said: “Both Arla and the dairy farmers who own our cooperative are taking steps to manage our soy use responsibly.” But they admitted, “We do not monitor the suppliers our farmers choose for their operations.”
The dairy company added that it has been buying loans since 2014 that support responsible soy farming. Describing soy as a “small but important” part of the cow’s diet, Arla said some of its farmers are looking for home grown alternatives like pea protein.
A spokesman for Mondelez, which manufactures Cadbury, said: “Eliminating deforestation is critical to protecting the local ecosystems that farmers need to produce sustainable raw materials.
“We work with manufacturers to promote sustainable business practices and have asked the UK government to legislate across the supply chain so that we can source deforestation-free raw materials such as soy.
“As part of our commitment to tackling deforestation, we made it clear that we expect all of our UK milk suppliers to work with us and contractually commit to getting 100% deforestation-free feed by 2023.”