New report again ‘casts doubt’ on sustainability pledges of Cargill and Bunge

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

'It is better to stay engaged with suppliers, using our leverage to drive progress' - Cargill  Photo Credit: © Mighty Earth
'It is better to stay engaged with suppliers, using our leverage to drive progress' - Cargill Photo Credit: © Mighty Earth

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Cargill and Bunge stress they are focused on ending deforestation in their supply chains, as a report decries continued land clearing in the Brazilian Cerrado and the Bolivian Amazon allegedly linked to the large agribusiness players.

A new report​ from not for profit Mighty Earth claims deforestation connected to the major soy traders has continued since its initial investigation in September 2016​despite the intense media scrutiny and calls from the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart to halt such practices that followed.

“We wanted to test whether these companies were actually adhering to their commitments to address deforestation in their own supply chains, and whether the systems they had established were adequate to actually stop deforestation.  To find out, we conducted repeat satellite monitoring of the same sites we had visited originally, using satellite imagery from Planet Labs.  

“We found a total of 60 square kilometers of new clearance on the farms we visited initially, as well as 120 square kilometers of planned clearance—land that has been prepared for imminent clearance,” ​said the organization.

The latest revelations, according to Mighty Earth, cast doubt on the sustainability commitments of the agribusiness giants like Cargill and Bunge, and “highlight, once again, the need for them to establish an effective industry-wide mechanism to stop deforestation.”

Bunge and Cargill respond…

A spokesperson for Cargill told us:

“The [Mighty Earth] report cites 15 case studies in the State of Bahia in Brazil and 13 case studies in eastern Bolivia. Of those 28 case studies, Cargill confirms sourcing from only one location described, “Bolivia Case Study 1 – Menonitas 1.”  

Bolivia case study new Mighty Earth report
Cargill confirmed sourcing from farm where clearance has taken place in 2017

He said the company is working on the farm and across the industry to find solutions for sustainable development everywhere it does business.

“We are doing this by addressing social and economic dynamics that will lead to long-term environmental protections while respecting the role of government and the rights of farmers working to provide for their families.

“We are engaging with the community to drive progress and we believe it is better to stay engaged with suppliers, using our leverage to drive progress,” ​he added.

Cargill's commitments to deforestation in its supply chain, published in January 2017, can be read here​. 

Stewart Lindsay, vice president, corporate affairs, at Bunge, said the company has a clear commitment and public plan to eliminate deforestation.  “We are working actively, individually and in partnership with NGOs and peer companies, to achieve our goals. We are expanding traceability of our supply, collaborating to develop new systems to identify areas for suitable agricultural expansion and exploring ways to provide new incentives to farmers to avoid deforestation.”​ 

This month saw Bunge release an updated deforestation policy​. 

‘There doesn’t have to be a trade-off between production and protection...’

Nathalie Walker, senior manager, tropical forest and agriculture project, at National Wildlife Federation, told this publication in March​ that expansion of soy production in the Brazilian Cerrado is possible but it needs to be managed to preserve areas of biodiversity:

“Soy traders need to be facilitated in this. It is a complex issue. The message we are trying to promote is that there does not have to be a trade-off between production and protection. There are 25 million hectares of already cleared land in the Brazilian Cerrado for example that is suitable for soy.”

She noted a publication by Brazilian agribusiness analysts, Agroicone, which identified available land for further soy cultivation that does not threaten critical areas of natural vegetation in the Matopiba region, the area of the Cerrado with the most deforestation for soy, according to the original Mighty Earth investigation.

Moreover, she put forward a case for the extension of the soy moratorium from the Brazilian Amazon to the Cerrado.

Under the existing soy moratorium, Cargill, Bunge, ADM, Louis Dreyfus and others have been able to expand soy production by more than six million acres without sacrificing forests.

“The moratorium is highly effective as farmers who don’t comply with the rules are automatically opted out. The mapping consultancy responsible for monitoring the moratorium in the Brazilian Amazon has mentioned it could implement a monitoring system for the Cerrado; it would not cost much to extend it to that region.

“So much attention has been given over to whether the moratorium would be extended in the Amazon and, in the meantime, other areas have been overlooked,” ​said Walker.

Mighty Earth claimed that extending that existing forest protection system to the other soy growing areas in South America would cost less than $1 million per year, or 1/75,000th the value of the global soy trade.

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