Soy industry sets sustainability standards

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Agriculture

Participants in the Round Table on Responsible Soy unanimously agreed a set of voluntary production standards on Thursday to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of soy production.

The soy industry has come under fire for causing widespread deforestation, displacing indigenous peoples and destroying natural habitats, particularly in South America. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is a group of producers, industry and trade representatives, and environmental organizations that aims to address these issues by establishing guidelines for good industry practice, promoting and monitoring sustainable soy production.

The RTRS Campinas Declaration on Conservation and Compensation was agreed at the organization’s fourth international conference in Brazil last week, starting from the premise that there is a need to expand food supply as a result of global demand, but it must be done in an environmental sustainable way.

“There is no doubt about the need to protect native habitats with scientific evidence of their unique importance and biodiversity in coexistence with agribusiness activities,”​ the document says.

Trial period

The RTRS Executive Board has set up a 12-month field test period to trial its initiatives starting May 28, 2009, after which it said it will review farm impacts and then revise the document in an effort to increase its effectiveness.

The declaration specifically forbids expanding soy cultivation on land cleared of native habitat during the field test period. But it excepts producers if they​produce “scientific evidence from a comprehensive and professional third party assessment of the area concerned”​ showing that it does not contain primary forest, other High Conservation Value Areas or local peoples’ lands.

Supply chain support

Although the declaration’s guidelines are voluntary, the RTRS stressed that it aims to establish actions that are supported throughout the soy supply chain from producers to consumers.

RTRS board member and coordinator of WWF Brazil’s Agriculture and Environment Program Cassio Moreira said: “We welcome this decision by RTRS members, but now the hard work begins to test and improve these standards over the next 12 months. Everybody in the soy supply chain needs to jump into this process and make it work, especially the buyers who must show their commitment to support the implementation of these standards.”

In order to secure farmers’ support, the document also proposes the creation of economic incentives to use already-cleared areas for cultivation, and establishing a framework for paying farmers who sacrifice agricultural output for conservation concerns.

According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization, world soy production increased from 144 million tonnes in 1997, to 216 million tonnes last year. In the same period, land area used for soy has increased from 67 million hectares to 94 million hectares.

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