The production of soy is closely linked to deforestation and the phenomenon of land grabbing, even if the media impact is even lower than that of cocoa and oil palm as it is used mainly as feed. Profundo, in collaboration with WWF Germany and IUCN NL (National Committee of the Netherlands), analyzed and compared 20 voluntary standard systems approved by the FEFAC SSG (European Feed Manufacturers' Federation). (1)
The growing demand for soybeans in the world
According to FAOSTAT data In 2021, 388 million tons of soybeans were grown, occupying approximately 130 million hectares worldwide. To understand the strong environmental impact, which does not correspond to as much public debate, oil palm cultivation has occupied "only" around 20 million hectares. (2) And this lack of awareness among consumers is probably due to the fact that 75% of all global production is used in feed for livestock.
Since the world population is expected to grow to 10 billion in 2050, it is assumed that the demand for soy will also continue to grow to satisfy the demand for animal products. And if it is not grown sustainably, we will see the loss of key ecosystems.
The impact of soy on ecosystems
The demand for soybeans, particularly the low-cost one intended for animals, has already caused the destruction of essential ecosystems rich in biodiversity. In addition to the Amazon, the Cerrado, Gran Chaco and Chiquitania in South America and the Great Plains in North America were affected. While the African savannas and the prairies of Central Asia are increasingly at risk. Although China is the largest importer of soybeans, Europe has the greatest impact on Brazilian forests.
In addition to deforestation, conventional soybean crops require a large use of chemicals which, if not well managed, can pollute the soil and the waters. A transition to a sustainable cultivation model that respects ecosystems and the rights of local populations is therefore necessary. FEFAC has committed to this by improving the guidelines on soy cultivation in 2021. Furthermore, from 2024-2025 operators and traders will have to ensure that a range of products, including soy, and their derivatives, are deforestation-free . (3) They must also demonstrate that they do not violate the rights of workers and the populations where the raw material is grown.
The evaluation of standards
To date, 20 voluntary standards were considered compliant with the Soy Soy Supply Guidelines (FEFAC SSG). These standards have been compared by Profundo with the 49 basic provisions and 11 additional requirements to assess whether the standard is:
- compliant with the criteria of the Deforestation Regulation,
- in line with the key criteria of Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, (4)
- compatible with the Accountability Framework Initiative guidelines on the supply of soya free from conversion and respecting human rights,
- compatible with the ISEAL (International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance) criteria for evaluating the reliability of the control on compliance with the previous criteria.
Criteria evaluations have been updated with the collaboration of the WWF and are grouped into the following categories:
1. Avoid the degradation of natural ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity;
2. Social issues and human rights;
4. Governance and level of assurance.
The comparison method used by Profundo
It was asked to the 20 standards to self-evaluate with a 'yes/no' answer for each criterion justified by a reference to the standards. The answers were evaluated by Profundo and corrected if the evidence provided was insufficient. Each criterion was assigned a score from 0 to 1 based on the answer given.
For every standard a final evaluation is provided and can be found in the report. Generally speaking, areas for improvement have been identified for all standards, including:
- almost all standards tolerate chemicals whose use is not completely prohibited but limited;
- most standards prohibit the introduction of invasive species, but almost no VSS requires that damage already caused by such species be mitigated;
- no standard requires full transparency on biodiversity;
- no standard requires the protection of rare, threatened and endangered species;
- governance, transparency and assurance can be improved for almost all standards which do not include an adequate internal control system.
In accordance with the EUDR, the standards should include clear requirements against deforestation and the conversion of natural ecosystems by providing geographical references and high-resolution maps that must be retained for 5 years. Human rights and safe and healthy working conditions should also be guaranteed. Despite the possible room for improvement for all standards, those rated as best by Profundo are: RTRS, Donau Soja, Europe Soya, ProTerra, ProTerra Europe, ISCC EU and ISCC Plus.
Independent and multi-stakeholder VSSFurthermore, they have proven to be more robust than corporate-owned programs as they are independently governed and involve stakeholder participation. An active part against deforestation can also be played by consumers, reducing the consumption of meat and animal derivatives.
(1) Pavel Boev, Jan Willem van Gelder. Setting a new bar for deforestation and conversion-free soy in Europe. Profound. 24.8.2023 https://www.wwf.de/fileadmin/fm-wwf/Publikationen-PDF/Amazonas/Setting-the-new-Bar-for-Conversion-free-Soy-in-Europe.pdf
(2) Dario Dongo. Brazil, land grabbing and deforestation for the 'sustainable' palm oil of Ferrero and Big Food. Open letter. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 22.5.2023
(3) Dario Dongo. Deforestation Regulation. Due diligence on critical raw materials begins. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 29.7.2023
(4) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. CSR, European Sustainability Reporting Standard. The new obligations for businesses. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 3.7.2023
Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.