EU food commodity imports linked to illegal deforestation


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Fern has urged the EU to adopt an action plan to reduce deforestation and improve local peoples' rights
Fern has urged the EU to adopt an action plan to reduce deforestation and improve local peoples' rights

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The European Union is a major consumer of food commodities sourced from illegally deforested land, according to a new report from Brussels-based NGO Fern.

The EU imports 25% of all soy stemming from illegal deforestation, 18% of all palm oil and 15% of all beef, as well as 31% of all leather, says the report, titled “Stolen Goods: the EU’s complicity in illegal tropical deforestation​”.

It says the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France and the UK together account for three-quarters of these imports and consume 63% of them. Because of its large ports, the Netherlands accounts for about a third of European imports from illegally deforested land, the report says, but many of these goods are then passed on to other EU countries.

“It is well documented that the EU has been leading the world in imports of products which drive deforestation, but this is the first time that we have data showing that much of this deforestation is also illegal,”​ said Saskia Ozinga, campaigns coordinator at Fern.

€6bn a year

Italy is the largest EU consumer of goods from illegally deforested land, responsible for the majority of leather consumption. Meanwhile, France consumes the most soy from illegally deforested land, mainly in the form of animal feed, and the UK consumes the most beef. Germany and the Netherlands are the biggest consumers of palm oil from such land, the report says.

Fern estimates the value of these imports at €6bn per year, with 60% of them from Brazil – mostly soy, beef and leather – and Indonesia accounting for 25%, mostly palm oil.

Law reform and trade incentives

“Demand for forest‐risk commodities is being driven by a number of different EU policies, such as agriculture, trade and energy policy,”​ Ozinga said. “We urgently need an Action Plan to make these different policies coherent, reduce EU consumption and ensure we only import legal and sustainably produced commodities.”

The organisation has urged the EU to develop an Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation to put trade incentives in place between the EU and supply countries.

 “The EU can instigate law reform in supply countries by bringing together the relevant governments, industries and civil society groups to not only reduce deforestation but improve governance and strengthen indigenous and local peoples’ tenure rights,”​ Ozinga said.

The report acknowledges that many EU companies have made voluntary commitments to zero deforestation within their supply chains, but adds that these could be difficult to meet without government action.

The full report is available to download here​.

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