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Responsible soy sourcing: Is the EU feed sector doing enough?

By Jane Byrne

31-May-2016
Last updated on 31-May-2016 at 16:59 GMT2016-05-31T16:59:33Z

Image: © istock.com/weerapatkiatdumrong
Image: © istock.com/weerapatkiatdumrong

Feed companies like Lantmännen and Raisio are leading the way in terms of responsible soy sourcing by the industry, with BioMar and De Heus Group following, says WWF. 

But, on the whole, European feed companies could be doing more about ensuring responsible soy sourcing, said the organization, as it released its 2016 soy sourcing rating system, the WWF Soy Scorecard

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s projections suggest demand for soy could almost double by 2050 as the global population grows and diets change. Much of this soy is grown in South America, where too often its cultivation, said the WWF, comes at the expense of natural ecosystems such as the Amazon, Cerrado and Chaco.

In half a century, the area of land used to grow soy has increased tenfold. Soy farms now cover over 1 million square kms. The area of South America devoted to soy grew from 17 million hectares in 1990 to 46 million hectares in 2010, mainly on land converted from natural ecosystems — and it continues to expand.

The aim of the scorecard, which was published as annual conference of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) takes place in Brazil, is to highlight “those companies deep into the supply chain that have no consumer face, holding up a mirror to 133 of Europe’s major retailers, food service companies, processed food manufacturers and dairy, meat, egg and feed companies [in terms of their soy sourcing].”

Criteria measured by the scorecard include transparency on total soy use, use of responsibly produced soy and efforts to remove deforestation and conversion of other natural habitats from soy supply chains.

The WWF said fewer than half of the 27 feed companies it contacted submitted information to WWF: “It is particularly disappointing that the numerous non-respondents include major international industry players like Agrifirm, Danish Agro and DLG.”

Transparency

Sandra Mulder, senior advisor on soy markets from WWF Netherlands, told us: “Some European feed companies have made good strides, with 100% of their soy volumes certified as responsible, and Dutch feed makers have taken further steps since the last edition of the soy scorecard in 2014. Other feed producers might be doing good work but they did not bother to respond to our questionnaire so we can’t report on their efforts.”

“If we are building an animal protein system based on cheap soy, then we really need to ensure it is a responsible one or it won’t last long. Retailers have a steering role to play; they can work together with feed manufacturers to implement a more responsible soy supply chain.”

A lot of feed companies, she argued, make a commitment to a small subset of purchase criteria for soy, including ensuring that the soy they source is legally produced. But ‘legality’ is not enough in and of itself to ensure sustainability. “Soy cultivation expansion is continuing and there is deforestation currently going on in the Cerrado that is totally legal,” said Mulder.

Danish Agro signed up to FEFAC scheme

Reacting to the WWF report, Søren Møgelvang Nielsen, spokesperson for Danish Agro, told FeedNavigator the group is actually signed up to the EU feed trade group’s soy scheme.

“Danish Agro is a member of the European Feed Industry Association, FEFAC, which has developed a comprehensive set of soy sourcing guidelines that includes a professional recommendation for feed companies to source soy that is produced in a responsible manner. 

“In the FEFAC guidelines, the focus is on preventing illegal deforestation. In the current version of the WWF soy scorecard, the focus is solely on ProTerra and RTRS membership and/or sourcing."

But Mulder said the FEFAC guidelines “are not sufficient.”

“In practice, in relation to the deforestation issue, which started the whole discussion on responsible soy, the FEFAC recommendations only cover legality. This can by no means be considered responsible or sustainable. 

"Furthermore, they are only guidelines; some feed companies have accepted them, while others are not adhering to them. The trade group has not given any definite timeline as to when the recommendations would be strengthened.

“The feed industry should not get distracted by such side step moves but should make the commitment to legitimate responsible soy sourcing now.”

FEFAC questions scorecard criteria

FEFAC said the WWF is and has always been a very important partner in the transition towards responsible soy: “However, the questions in the [2016] soy scorecard fail to acknowledge the current developments in the market and in producing countries."

It said the goal of its soy sourcing guidelines is to provide transparency to market operators interested in purchasing responsible soy and to give suppliers and farmer organizations an incentive to develop their own approach for responsible soy cultivation together with their farm base.

FEFAC said it also requested the International Trade Center (ITC) – a UN/WTO organization – to develop an online benchmarking platform to "transparently and independently" verify whether a responsible soy scheme meets the guidelines criteria, It reported that, so far, nine schemes have been assessed by ITC as being compliant with its recommendations.

“For several schemes the benchmarking process prompted the need for amendments, illustrating the positive effect of FEFAC’s efforts on the sustainability agenda of the soy supply chain,” continued the trade group.

FEFAC estimated that currently more than five million tons of soy compliant with its guidelines are used by the EU compound feed industry. “In the trade of responsible soy, FEFAC can only play a facilitating role. It is up to market operators themselves to decide to buy soy which is produced under one of the approved schemes. The number of companies in Europe doing so is rapidly increasing,” added the Brussels based organization.

The trade group said there is a rising awareness that a complex multi-faceted problem like deforestation cannot be solved only at the individual farmer level, in one supply chain or without an active role of the local government: “Therefore, new approaches are needed to tackle deforestation including the farmers in the producing countries. Compliance with national forest protection and biodiversity laws is generally seen as crucial as illegal deforestation is still a major issue.”

It said the focus, thus, in its guidelines is on preventing illegal deforestation.

“FEFAC also believes it is important to support landscape initiatives, such as the Mato Grosso state action plan [in Brazil] to reduce deforestation. The Consumer Goods Forum, representing all major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers globally, recently revised its recommendation for sourcing responsible soy and included the FEFAC Soy Guidelines as important step in a twin-track approach towards zero net deforestation,” it added.

Beyond Europe

Europe is just one of several regions worldwide that buy large volumes of soy for use in animal feed, which begs the question whether European feed producers are being unfairly targeted for their soy sourcing practices. 

Mulder said the WWF is also working on other markets in tandem with its pressure on European players:

“A lot of soy produced goes to Europe, and it has the biggest possibility to move, to take the next step on the road to responsible soy production. European consumer, retailers and companies lead the way globally on ensuring responsibility in supply chains and for this reason we are making the region a priority.”

She said NGOs, trade groups, feed companies and retailers can join together to create a workable solution for responsible soy production and expansion. 

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