Major companies are driving soy sustainability, says RTRS

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Soy is challenging for food companies to discuss without courting controversy, so many companies choose to deal quietly and directly with their suppliers
Soy is challenging for food companies to discuss without courting controversy, so many companies choose to deal quietly and directly with their suppliers

Related tags: Supply chain

Sustainability in the soy sector is being driven by food companies aiming to mitigate brand risk, according to Europe Outreach Manager for the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) Lieven Callewaert.

Unlike other food ingredients, such as palm oil, soy is often less visible to consumers in the foods they buy, as it is most often used in feed rather than as a direct ingredient. However, companies increasingly are concerned about potential public relations disasters if unsustainable practices turn up in their supply chains.

Callewaert cited the example of McDonald’s Europe, which aims to source 100% RTRS-certified soy by 2020; last year its poultry suppliers sourced 20% of soy from RTRS.

“Although the big users are the feed industry, the real drivers for transformation are the brand owners, because they are attacked by NGOs,”​ he told FoodNavigator. “The main challenge is covering the brand risk. That’s the main trigger. They have a strategy for sustainability and so on, but I think the main driver is an economical driver to product their brands.”

Callewaert said food companies often found it difficult to trace the whole soy supply chain – but that hasn’t stopped them from trying, as soy production has been tainted by deforestation, the destruction of ecosystems, violation of land rights and unfair working conditions. This has made it a rather controversial ingredient too, which is another reason why companies have often shied away from talking about their soy supply chains with consumers.

“My vision is that this is a pre-competitive thing,”​ he said. “We decide as a society to protect our planet or we don’t have a planet anymore…Suppose that all brand owners in Europe commit to buying RTRS certificates – then you create a critical mass.”

The RTRS was founded in 2006, and 2014 saw it nearly double the quantity of certified soy sold compared to a year earlier to 1.3m tonnes worldwide, with the vast majority sold in Europe. However, this still represents only a tiny fraction of global soy supply, which the FAO estimated at 249m tonnes last year.

RTRS claims that certifying as little as 10m tonnes could prove a tipping point for sustainable certification in the sector.

Providing ten million tonnes of responsibly cultivated soy can prove to be the tipping point that will establish responsible soy right in the centre of the international market,”​ claims RTRS’s executive director Agustín Mascotena. “If producers, buyers and other stakeholders join forces in a common push, we can accelerate the market momentum for responsible soy.”

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