How realistic are food companies’ forest-risk commodity pledges?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

An estimated 71% of tropical deforestation this century has been for agricultural conversion, the report estimates
An estimated 71% of tropical deforestation this century has been for agricultural conversion, the report estimates
Food companies account for well over half of forest-risk commodity commitments, according to a new report from NGO Forest Trends – but can they keep their promises?

Companies worth nearly $4trn have made commitments to avoid deforestation and other degradation of vulnerable ecosystems – and about a third of new pledges were made in 2014, nearly doubling 2013’s announcements.

The environmental NGO’s report​ attributes last year’s spike in new commitments to a target set by members of the Consumer Goods Forum for zero net deforestation by 2020, and by signatories to the New York Declaration on Forests to halve forest loss by 2020. Palm oil commitments lead the way, increasing 171% last year compared to 2013.

“Palm oil commitments consistently dominate in this and related research partly due to the RSPO’s member progress reporting requirement and intense civil society attention to the sector,”​ the report said.

Commitment tracking

Now, in order to track these commitments in near-real time, the organisation has set up an online platform​ with information on pledges by sector, company and commodity.

It claims that these commitments create a virtuous cycle, with every pledge from a major retailer sparking three more pledges from their suppliers.

“Transparency through public disclosure is a valuable tool for the world to gauge the corporate community’s progress in eradicating deforestation from key agricultural inputs,”​ said Forest Trends founding president and CEO Michael Jenkins.

Deforestation since 2000

However, a growing global middle class – with its demand for beef, soybeans for animal feed, and palm oil for foods and personal care products – as well as ongoing demand for from developed nations has led to a rapid increase in deforestation since 2000. The report estimates that 71% of all tropical deforestation from 2000 to 2012 was for agricultural conversion, and nearly a quarter of that (24%) was illegal deforestation specifically to produce commodities for export markets.

The organisation claims that more than 6m hectares of tropical rainforest are lost every year, with two-thirds of it going to meet demand for palm oil, soybeans, beef, and wood products. However, only about half of this deforestation is legal, and existing regulation is often ineffective, the report says.

According to Jason Clay, senior vice president of markets at WWF, corporate commitments are critical to creating more sustainable supply chains.

“We believe that consumers should only have sustainable choices. To accomplish this, we need to completely rethink the way products are made, from the bottom up,” ​he said.

The full report is available to download here​.

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