Call for EU action plan as firms shirk responsibility on soy

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

'Many Europeans still don’t know that they eat on average 61 kilos of soy per year, mostly embedded in their meat and dairy products,' said WWF senior advisor Sandra Mulder. © iStock
'Many Europeans still don’t know that they eat on average 61 kilos of soy per year, mostly embedded in their meat and dairy products,' said WWF senior advisor Sandra Mulder. © iStock
The EU needs a deforestation action plan after a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) analysis of the bloc’s largest food companies showed many are using consumer ignorance to dodge their “massive responsibility” when sourcing soy.

In a new analysis of 133 leading manufacturers, retailers, processors and feed companies, WWF found that just 16 have strong commitments to sourcing responsible, deforestation-free soy and 27 have a target to use 100% responsible soy.

Soy has undergone some of the greatest expansion of any global crop in recent decades as demand for meat has surged  - around 93% of the soy going into Europe is used for animal feed. But far too few companies currently have plans in place to ensure their supplies are sustainable, says the NGO.

“While some companies are making commendable progress on soy, worryingly, others are making no progress at all – or are simply hiding from accountability,”​ the authors noted.

Hiding away

Just half of the firms responded to WWF, and in the vast majority of these cases the NGO assumed companies are not doing anything at all to move toward responsible soy.

 “[…] It is clear that many companies take advantage of the lack of consumer awareness about soy in order to do nothing on this issue,”​ said WWF senior advisor for market change Sandra Mulder.

Food manufacturers and dairy processors that failed to respond included Nestlé (Switzerland); Dairy Crest (UK); Sodiaal and Savencia Fromage & Dairy/Bongrain (France);
and Milcobel and Solarec (Belgium).

Of the 22 food processors approached by WWF for its 2016 Soy Scorecard, just six have committed to using 100% responsible soy. “[] A number of companies have a long way to go on the journey,”​ the authors noted.

However, there are both laggards and pioneers – the seven companies using responsible soy have sourced a combined 706,000 tonnes. Nine companies have also started to calculate their full soy volume, reporting a total volume of 1.7 million tonnes between them.

These firms have “proved that it’s possible to calculate their soy use and begin to take the steps to cover that use with responsible soy. Other companies in this sector should follow suit, especially those manufacturing (branded) meat products,”​ WWF explained.

Praise for pioneers

Unilever was singled out for praise as the best-performing processed food manufacturer and the only one that is “well on the path​” in terms of embedded soy. However, it still only achieved half the score (10 points out of 24) of top-performing dairy companies like Arla, Skånemejerier, BEL Group and Friesland Campina.

The criteria measured included transparency on total soy use, use of responsibly produced soy and efforts to remove deforestation and conversion of other natural habitats from soy supply chains.

Swedish company HKScan Sweden topped the table amongst meat and eggs processing companies, whilst the best-performing firm overall was also from Sweden, retail company ICA Sveridge (23.5 points).

Consumers unaware

This the second Soy Scorecard published by WWF (the first was completed in 2014). It comes ahead of the 11th annual conference of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) taking place in Brazil this week.

On the back of its findings, WWF has called in the European Commission to deliver an action plan on deforestation and forest degradation to reduce the EU’s “disastrous footprint”​ on unique forests like the Cerrado or the Amazon.

It also urged companies to publish their soy use – both direct and that embedded in animal products – and map their soy supply chains and the environmental risk related to them. They should then set out ambitious steps to sourcing RTRS-certified or ProTerra soy.

“Many Europeans still don’t know that they eat on average 61 kilos of soy per year, mostly embedded in their meat and dairy products, and what impact irresponsible soy production can have on the ecosystems of South America,”​ Mulder explained. “In most cases, consumers have no proof that the products they eat do not include deforestation.”

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