Meat produced in UK causing deforestation

| 19th February 2020
organic cows Helen Browning

organic cows Helen Browning

Soil Association
Environmental group WWF has launched a campaign calling for new laws to prevent companies importing products that are causing deforestation.

We need the UK government to show decisive leadership to take deforestation off our plates with legislation that makes it illegal to import products that contribute to the destruction of forests

Food - and especially meat - produced in Britain could be contributing to the loss of forests and wildlife from jaguars to giant anteaters overseas, campaigners have warned.

Environmental group WWF has launched a campaign calling for new laws to prevent companies importing products that are causing deforestation.

The charity warns that people who buy British could still be inadvertently contributing to environmental damage in other countries: for example, if the meat they are eating is fed on soy grown in other parts of the world.

Subtropical

European consumers, including in the UK, eat around 134.5lb (61kg) of soy a year without realising it, as it is imported and fed to animals such as pigs and chickens reared in the UK.

The soy fed to animals mostly comes from South America, where production of the crop has nearly trebled in the last 20 years, WWF warned.

Forests and habitat, such as Brazil's Cerrado savanna, are cleared for new land for food production because it is more profitable to do that than use degraded or abandoned agricultural land which already exists, the charity said.

Annual soy imports to the UK take up more than 1.5 million hectares of land, not including soy feed that forms part of the environmental footprint of meat imported from other countries.

Other food products such as palm oil are also causing deforestation, with agriculture linked to three-quarters of the loss of forests in tropical and subtropical countries, WWF said.

Consumers

The food people eat in the UK is linked to the threatened extinction of an estimated 33 species, including jaguars, giant anteaters and three-toed sloths, according to the charity.

While some companies have made commitments to tackle deforestation in their supply chains, WWF wants the Government to end imports of products driving deforestation.

It is launching the "Let's get deforestation #OffOurPlates" campaign and is calling for changes to the Environment Bill that is before Parliament to set targets to end deforestation and "due diligence" regulations on companies to ensure their supply chains are not harming nature.

Katie White, WWF executive director of advocacy and campaigns, said: "People don't want to eat food that's destroying forests - but deforestation is hidden even in food that appears home-grown.

"Action by individual businesses or consumers isn't enough.

Sustainable

"We need the UK government to show decisive leadership to take deforestation off our plates with legislation that makes it illegal to import products that contribute to the destruction of forests."

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said: "We're working hard alongside businesses and producers to tackle deforestation and protect wildlife both at home and abroad.

"We have made significant improvements to the sustainability of the UK's supply chains overseas over the past decade - the vast majority of the UK's palm oil now comes from sustainable sources and we're engaging with major supermarkets to ensure more sustainable soya is on the market.

"We have also convened a taskforce to recommend how we can go even further."

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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