Poultry excuses? UK chicken retailers’ soy purchases aiding destruction of South American forests

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Supermarkets and fast-food outlets under fire in new Greenpeace report for buying soy for chicken feed from commodity traders linked to illegal deforestation.

The UK imports over three million tonnes of soya every year from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to feed factory farmed animals – primarily chickens. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Greenpeace.

Some of the UK’s biggest food retailers’ inability to trace the soy used in their chicken products is enabling further destruction of the world’s rainforests, a new Greenpeace report has claimed.

The report, Winging it: How the UK’s chicken habit is fuelling the climate & nature emergency, shows how supermarkets and fast-food outlets are potentially contributing to forest loss in South America by buying chickens fed on soy from companies linked to deforestation.

Greenpeace surveyed 23 food brands about their chicken sales and soy usage – including all major UK supermarkets along with Burger King, Nando’s, Pret a Manger and others.

The UK imports over three million tonnes of soy every year from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to feed factory farmed animals – primarily chickens.

None of the companies surveyed could guarantee the soy they use for meat production was deforestation-free. Some, like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Nando’s and Subway refused to disclose their meat sales or soy use altogether.

“For too long the impact on our planet of growing crops for UK chicken feed have been overlooked. A straight swap from beef to chicken effectively amounts to outsourcing emissions of our meat consumption from the UK to South America,” Greenpeace UK forest campaigner Chiara Vitali said.

The report found that many supermarkets are buying soy from commodity giants like Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill, all of which have been implicated in enabling the destruction of forests or other habitats in the Brazilian Cerrado, the world’s most wildlife-rich savannah.

A soya bean crop in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Credit: Bruno Kelly / Greenpeace.

Bunge and Cargill, along with three more traders and dozens of farmers, were fined a total of $29m by Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama in May 2018 for buying 3,000metric tonnes of soy and other produce from illegally cleared parts of the Cerrado.

Cargill has faced numerous legal cases over its commodity production processes and a string of international brands have dropped the US trading giant in recent years.

In December, Nestle confirmed it had stopped sourcing Brazilian soy from Cargill in May because of its “inability to deliver traceable soy”.

UK retailers are under mounting pressure to ensure their procurement of commodities such as soy, palm oil and meat are not leading to deforestation around the world.

A 2019 investigation by Earthsight found Asda, Sainsbury’s and other leading supermarkets to be selling corned beef from controversial Brazilian meatpacker JBS – a firm fined £6.5m in 2017 for buying cattle reared on illegally deforested Amazon land.

Greenpeace said that no company could demonstrate it was taking any meaningful steps to ensure its supply of soy-based animal feed was not contributing to forest destruction and urged retailers to improve traceability mechanisms.

“The simple truth is, we cannot continue to consume any type of industrially-produced meat in the volumes we currently are. It’s why we’re calling on companies to set clear meat reduction targets and be transparent about where their animal feed comes from,” Vitali added.