EU needs new laws to ban global deforestation in product supply chains – survey

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

New regulation is needed to ensure products sold in the European Union do not contribute to global deforestation, according to 87 per cent of European residents surveyed in a new continent-wide poll.

Respondents surveyed in 25 European countries – including France, Germany, the UK and Spain – believe the EU should introduce laws to outlaw goods being sold that harm the environment and are the result of deforestation.

The YouGov poll was commissioned by the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fern, Greenpeace and WWF and shows there is overwhelming support for greater forest protections to be put in place.

The EU has introduced policies to curb the illegal timber, illegal fishing and conflict minerals trades but its inaction on deforestation linked to agricultural commodities imports has been criticised by parliamentarians, NGOs, governments and increasingly so, the general public.

The survey, conducted among 20,892 adults, also found 91 per cent of those surveyed believe deforestation is harmful to the people and wildlife that live in the affected areas and the same percentage said they care about forests and wildlife.

Hannah Mowat, campaigns coordinator at Fern, said on behalf of the NGOs: “Europeans have made it very clear: they understand the terrible consequences of deforestation and don’t want to be complicit in this tragedy.

“They don’t want to buy dairy products, steaks or snacks that are tainted by forest destruction.”

From large-scale cattle ranching and soy cultivation in South America to industrial palm oil plantations which are carving up forests in Indonesia and DR Congo, the global deforestation of lands is persisting.

The tropics lost 12.8 million hectares of tree cover in 2018, according to a recent Global Forest Watch report. The destruction of primary forest also continued unabated with 3.6 million hectares – an area the size of the Belgium – disappearing globally last year.

Meanwhile, forest loss in Ghana and Ivory Coast increased 60 per cent and 26 per cent respectively during the year – the highest country increases observed in the report and partly the result of widespread cocoa farming in the two nations to meet European and global demand for chocolate.

It was estimated that in 2012 the EU imported €6 billion ($6.7 billion) of beef, soy, palm oil and leather that were grown or reared on illegally cleared land in the tropics, almost a quarter of the world trade.

In December 2018, the EU published a road map to “step up European Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation” as part of its international commitment to halt deforestation by 2020.

The road map outlines a series of actions the EU may take on the issue, including a desire to “promote sustainable and transparent supply chains”, but the initiative is seen by many as not going far enough.

By simply encouraging the private sector to improve practices and introduce ‘zero deforestation’ policies, the actions mooted in the road map are void of any concrete measures that demand EU importers of at-risk commodities must meet certain minimum regulatory standards.

The European Commission has announced that it is to ban the use of palm oil for biofuels (Europe uses around four million tonnes of crude palm oil for diesel each year), but the absence of binding regulations to address broader agricultural imports is a concern.

“The solution must be EU-wide regulation,” Mowat added. “This is the last chance for the EU to stand by its commitment to halt deforestation by 2020. Failing to act would be a black mark on M. Juncker’s environmental legacy.”

UK retailer Iceland announced in 2018 that it is to ban the use of palm oil in its own brand products and while others have made similar pledges, global retailers continue to source commodities from firms linked to deforestation and illegalities.

Palm oil giant Wilmar – whose clients include Unilever, Nestle and Colgate-Palmolive – has been accused of illegal deforestation for years and although it passed a zero deforestation policy in 2013, a recent Greenpeace report found the Singaporean firm was still sourcing palm oil from producers who had deforested large swathes of Indonesian rainforest.

Meanwhile, in May 2019 Earthsight research revealed that several UK and European supermarkets continue to stock beef from JBS – a Brazilian meatpacking giant which has previously been implicated in illegal deforestation of the Amazon and other environmental malpractices.

The Forest 500, an initiative by the NGO Global Canopy which monitors the most influential companies and financial institutions in palm oil, soy, cattle and timber sectors, said in March that none of the firms analysed will meet their 2020 goal of eliminating commodity-driven deforestation in their supply chains.

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