Meeting consumer demand for beef and other commodities in the EU and UK entails using large amounts of environmental resources, especially land. In addition to the space to grow the animals themselves, meat production requires cropland to feed them.
The majority of soya, a commodity crop primarily used as livestock feed, is grown in countries with high deforestation rates, like Brazil. Approximately 20% of soya exports and 17% of beef exports to the EU are produced through illegal land clearing. The “contamination” of consumer products with illegally produced components is a misrepresentation to consumers. Illegal deforestation reduces the Earth’s capacity to absorb excess carbon and contributes to climate change.
Demand remains high for meat, palm oil, and other Amazonian imports potentially contaminated with illegally produced commodities, even as consumer sentiment is moving toward sustainable production. Among British respondents to a WWF survey, 81% express a desire for greater transparency on imported product labels, and 67% support government action to reduce deforestation.
Deforestation, including illegal destruction of the Amazon rainforest, has accelerated in recent years. Although Brazil’s President Bolsonaro recently authorized military enforcement’s deployment to address the stark rise in illegal logging and ranching, his history of weakening administrative enforcement of environmental protections has earned him rightful criticism.
As a global leader in the fight to reduce atmospheric carbon, and without effective support from major exporting nations, the UK now seeks to place the burden of supply chain verification and documentation onto the businesses that profit from Amazonian exports.
Under the proposed new law, large companies operating in the UK would have to show the origins of commodities like cocoa, soy, rubber, and palm oil. Businesses would be responsible for investigating suppliers, eliminating commodities produced in violation of environmental protection laws in the nations of origin, and publishing information about their products’ origins.
The proposed law has deep implications. For example, even legally produced beef might have been contaminated with illegally grown soya. An array of packaged foods and cosmetics rely on palm oil, cocoa, and soy. The UK is challenging companies in every industry to take on this task, to demand transparency and environmental protection compliance throughout their supply networks.