In a significant development, food manufacturers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains are coming under pressure from campaigners over the environmental impact the food chain is having on tropical forests midst calls to strengthen a plan to stop logging of trees in tropical forests to grow cocoa, palm oil and soy.
With the food industry coming under growing regulatory scrutiny over its role in driving deforestation in countries including in Brazil and Indonesia, Britain is drawing up legislation to force the sector to tighten oversight of its supply chains.
Welcoming the plans, in an open letter, around 20 large companies said, the move was a “step forward” but “it’s not currently envisioned to be enough to halt deforestation and we encourage the government to go further to … address this issue.”
Signatories of the letter included Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Unilever, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s Corp, Nestle, Greencore Group and various livestock producers.
The move is aimed at imposing financial cost on companies found to be complicit in deforestation, is aimed at improving a range of voluntary, industry-led initiatives that have faced widespread criticism from environmental groups.
Companies have made it clear that they would prefer clear direction from governments in terms of standard rules rather than navigate the existing maze of voluntary initiatives.
Under the proposed legislation, large companies would have to report on how they source tropical commodities. The companies would also be banned from using products that are harvested illegally in their country of origin.
The proposed new law however has a major loophole, said the signatories. Farmers in developing countries can clear forests to grow cash crops for export without breaking any laws. They now want the new British rules to apply to all deforestation, not just in areas cases where such ecological destruction is illegal.
“The proposed legislation would continue to allow rampant deforestation in hotspots such as Indonesia and Brazil,” said Robin Willoughby, UK director of campaign group Mighty Earth.
These companies are also concerned how this new legislation will play out since it would not apply to smaller firms who may import considerable amounts of products, including rubber, from sensitive forest regions.
“A more comprehensive overhaul of forest management rules globally would be needed to reverse the loss of old-growth forests, whose stores of carbon form bastions to slow climate change”, said Cyril Kormos, an executive director of Wild Heritage, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, California.
He went on to add, “Deforestation pledges only go so far. We need an equivalent focus on ending degradation of primary forests.”