Palm oil deforestation

Despite widespread support from the government to roll out anti-deforestation regulation, the proposals did not receive approval before the election was announced

UK supermarkets have been left “in a limbo” after government plans to press ahead with anti-deforestation laws were put on pause ahead of the general election, according to an industry figure.

Retailers last month were awaiting on secondary legislation to be laid to deliver the forest-risk commodities regulation. This would require them to prove that a number of commodities sourced through their supply chains – like soy and cocoa – were not linked to illegal deforestation.

The proposals were put forward by the Conservative government as part of an amendment to the Environment Act and expected to roll out swiftly, as Britain has targets to end deforestation linked to some commodities by 2025.

Businesses have been making changes to their supply chains in recent months in preparation, as they also gear up for similar regulation to roll out in the EU later this year.

However, the forest-risk commodities regulation was not a part of the pre-election wash-up, leaving retailers with uncertainty over whether the law will be amended or even picked up at all by a new government.

There were particular worries around what a potential Labour government approach to the current proposals would be, the retail source said.

“The main concern is that the future government may not decide to continue with the due diligence regulation because they see the EU are already delivering on that, so there is a Brussels effect and therefore we won’t have to do it ourselves.”

At the same time, it was “unlikely that a Labour government will want to go against the goodwill of the deforestation due diligence regulation”, they added.

The UK’s Environment Act amendment says importers with at least £50m in global turnover who trade more than 500 tonnes of the regulated commodities – including beef, leather, soy, palm oil and cocoa – will need to produce an annual declaration showing their imports did not come from illegally deforested lands.

But the industry has raised concerns over the differences between Conservative government proposals and the EU’s Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which covers more commodities than the UK’s does.

There are also discrepancies in the ways each regulation operates, with the UK approach being considered more lenient than the stricter EU requirements coming into place on 30 December.

Read more: The deforestation regulation clock is ticking for food and drink

There was a possibility a Keir Starmer government could be “more amenable to aligning” with EU legislation, the source said.

The BRC has previously urged ministers to close those regulatory gaps in order to ease all due diligence and paperwork processes for industry, especially those trading in and out of the bloc and which are therefore also exposed to EUDR compliance.

Questions around how the laws will apply to retailers and traders in Northern Ireland – which currently enjoys minimal trade barriers with both the rest of the UK and the EU single market in order to avoid both a land and Irish Sea border – have still not been addressed.

“The due diligence legislation in Europe, and the proposed secondary legislation in the UK is critical to levelling the playing field to make deforestation-free commodities the market norm,” said the BRC said in a statement last month.

“There have been concerns expressed by industry on how it can meet the challenges, but the key issue preventing rapid action is the lack of guidance materials from policymakers that would consistently answer the questions we are getting from our suppliers and colleagues.”

Retailers are also concerned that a new government may want to push ahead with implementing the impending forest-risk commodities regulations shortly after the election as a “quick win” without providing enough time or detail for preparation, the industry source told The Grocer.

“There would be huge pushback because the detail of how to comply at the moment is so vague.”

In the EU, questions have also arisen this weekend over a potential delay to the EUDR after support for the bloc’s far-right parties – many of whom are staunch opponents of the bill – surged in the European elections.