Weak legislation risks UK becoming dumping ground for soy from the Cerrado savannah, Brazil’s “forgotten jewel”

Weak legislation risks UK becoming dumping ground for soy from the Cerrado savannah, Brazil’s “forgotten jewel”

Sydney Jones

Press Secretary

[email protected]

Carole Mitchell

Sr. Director Communications

[email protected]

The warning comes as a new Mighty Earth investigation reveals recent “legal” Cerrado deforestation equivalent to the size of Manchester 

Mighty Earth is warning that secondary legislation to the Environment Act 2021, expected soon, would see the UK lagging behind the European Union’s new, world-beating zero-deforestation law as the UK legislation will likely only cover illegal deforestation for imports of commodities such as soy. 

The groundbreaking new European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which comes into force on 29th of June, covers both illegal and legal deforestation for imports of seven key forest-risk commodities, meaning the UK could become a dumping ground for soy grown on deforested land, classified as legal under Brazilian law, but which is not permitted to enter European markets when the EUDR comes into force next year.  

Some 90% of the UK’s soy imports are used for animal feed to produce meat and dairy, and soy is recognised as a leading cause of deforestation in threatened biomes in Brazil and elsewhere. Traceability in soy supply chains is also a huge issue, as soy grown on legally deforested land is mixed with soybeans grown on illegally deforested land – a practice known as ‘grain laundering.’ 

New report reveals rampant deforestation 

The warning comes as Mighty Earth released a new report – Saving the Cerrado: How Bunge, Supermarkets and Governments Must Act Fast – detailing the threat to the Cerrado savannah in central Brazil from soy and meat production and evidence of recent widespread deforestation linked to US commodities trader Bunge. We found 11,351 hectares of recent deforestation on farms in the Cerrado, equivalent to the size of Manchester.  

Deforestation in the threatened Cerrado savannah recently hit a record high of 353,200 hectares between January and May 2023, and the vast, biodiversity-rich, but largely unprotected biome has become a global hotspot for soy-related deforestation.  

Major European supermarkets including Carrefour and Casino in France, Ahold Delhaize in the Netherlands and Aldi Süd in Germany have launched investigations in response to Mighty’s Earth’s report. France’s biggest pork producer, Cooperl, has dropped Bunge from their soy supply chains.  

It follows a recent investigation by Mighty Earth, linking chicken and pork products sold in Tesco in the UK to illegal deforestation to grow soy in the Brazilian Amazon. 

Alex Wijeratna, Senior Director for Mighty Earth said: 

“As a climate champion and global leader on protecting the world’s forests and nature, the UK should urgently legislate to ensure it doesn’t become a dumping ground for deforestation-linked soy that’s been grown in threatened biomes like the Cerrado in Brazil, where up to 80% of the land can be ‘legally’ deforested under local laws.” 

The Cerrado – Brazil’s “forgotten jewel”  

The Cerrado is the world’s largest and most diverse savannah, home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, including 16,000 plants and 1,600 animal species, like the endangered jaguar, giant anteater, and maned wolf. It is also home to numerous Indigenous and local communities. 

Known as an ‘upside-down forest,’ the Cerrado stores an estimated 13.7 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to that of a tropical forest, in its soils and immense roots system. It’s also a major water source, but industrial soy expansion for animal feed means it’s becoming drier and hotter. While the global focus has been on its neighbour the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado, Brazil’s “forgotten jewel” is now in greater peril, having lost half of its land surface to make way for soy and cattle, making it vulnerable to ecosystem collapse. 

Deforestation in the Cerrado hit a record high of 353,200 hectares between January and May 2023, and recent figures from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE) show deforestation rates rising steeply in comparison to the Amazon, where rates are declining. 

Glenn Hurowitz, CEO and Founder at Mighty Earth said:  

“The UK’s Environment Act needs to match the ambition of the EU’s zero-deforestation law if we’re to stand any chance of saving the Cerrado and mitigating climate change. Two years ago, at COP26 in Glasgow, the UK played a key role in helping to galvanise global support for a groundbreaking deal to save the world’s forests, but this legacy is being undermined by weak UK legislation.” 

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