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Soy-linked deforestation could even increase, according to environmental campaigners

A new industry roadmap that aims to stop deforestation in soy supply chains by 2025 is “seriously flawed” and could accelerate the issue, campaigners have warned.

Unveiled at COP27 this week, the roadmap – published by the Tropical Forest Alliance in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and developed by food businesses – did not go far enough, claimed campaign group Mighty Earth.

The plan was developed by 14 key agri-food stakeholders, including major companies such as Cargill, JBS, ADM, Musim Mas and Olam Agri. The process was facilitated by the TFA and WBCSD.

Milestones laid out in the roadmap include regular progress reporting before an end to deforestation from soy production by 2025.

However, Mighty Earth claimed the plans fell short of what was needed to stop the Earth reaching the 1.5°C cut-off for global heating.

The target of 2025 would merely “spur a race to the bottom, since producers will accelerate ecosystem destruction in advance of the 2025 zero-deforestation deadline”, said Mighty Earth senior director Alex Wijeratna.

Crucially, the plan “includes deforestation but not ecosystem conversion”, he added.

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As a result, “it cherry-picks which lands it will cover, leaving out significant parts of the most important landscapes, including 74% of the Cerrado savannah and grasslands in Brazil”.

This is significant given the Cerrado is experiencing the fastest rates of habitat conversion for soy expansion, and soy represents 90% of all agriculture in the region, he explained.

Glenn Hurowitz, founder and CEO of Mighty Earth, said he was “disappointed but not surprised by that the roadmap is lacking much forward action”. It instead acted as “a starting pistol for deforestation, they’re telling their suppliers to get out the bulldozers while the bulldozers can”.

Criticism of the roadmap was echoed by Will Schreiber, representative of the Retail Soy Group, which counts major UK retailers and environmental groups among its membership.

“By delaying a cut-off date for several years, but stating there will be one at some point, land owners are potentially being given a signal to clear as much as they can, as fast as they can, over the next few years,” said Schreiber.

He added that over the past few years, positive action had been taken by retailers to limit the impact of deforestation and land conversion for agricultural production. However, he warned with the remaining potential for land clearing, the sector’s ambitions “will probably not matter as we will have most likely crossed a tipping point resulting in the loss of these ecosystems forever”.

Hurowitz claimed that some companies had “sabotaged this agreement and prevented other companies from doing more, but there is nothing in this agreement that stops more progressive companies from acting alone. I hope they will”.

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Those who did choose to go further on the issue would have a “commercial advantage”, he added. “It’s a small minority of producers which is causing almost all of the problem,” he said and those who had failed to act had done so due to “cultural inertia” and a “failure of leadership”.

Mighty Earth did stress that some companies had made significant strides, however, such as Amaggi and Louis Dreyfus Company – the commitments of which “go above and beyond the roadmap and should be commended”.

And for those companies that had instituted immediate effect deforestation bans, there had been a positive impact, Hurowitz added. For example, there had been a 90% reduction in deforestation in palm oil, rubber and paper for this reason.

“They have been an essential ingredient to success, so I think the approach of not setting a cut off date is a bit of an outlier.”