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The Soil Association urges governments to act against deforestation

Deforestation: action needed

Our submission this week to the European Commission public consultation on ‘Stepping up EU action against deforestation and forest degradation’ is an urgent reminder that the loss of natural forests globally for food production is an irreversible disaster for our climate, biodiversity and forest communities; and that the products grown following forest clearance are contributing to unsustainable diets and ill health in the EU.

The EU now has a golden opportunity to set a clear example to other trading nations – and the UK will need to follow suit.

Forests are vital to human existence

The loss of natural forests globally for food production is an irreversible disaster for our climate, biodiversity and forest communities. Forests are vital to human existence, and we will not combat climate change without them. Trees in undisturbed forests absorb nearly a fifth of all carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels; yet 2017 was the second highest rate of tropical tree cover loss ever recorded.

Forests are also among the richest ecosystems. Tropical, temperate and boreal forests are home to more than 80% of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Around the world, more than 26,500 species are threatened with extinction and with species so dependent on forests, conserving vital forest habitats is critically important to their survival.

Given this dependence, it is ironic that half (49%) of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture; and around half of this illegal destruction is for agricultural commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products, exported to consuming countries. Much of the food produced from these agricultural commodities is fuelling the high consumption of ultra-processed foods, increasing the rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity, for many EU citizens. In the UK alone, the over-all cost of obesity to the National Health Service and wider society is estimated at £27 billion a year.

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There is a compelling case for the EU and national governments to step up regulatory action and implement other complementary measures, against illegal deforestation, to achieve the following goals:

  1. Meet the Paris Agreement climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees

  2. Safeguard remaining biodiversity, and prevent our planet from entering further in to the ‘sixth mass extinction’ which is already underway

  3. Shift European citizens away the mass consumption of poor quality, highly processed agricultural products which lack nutritional value and place an overwhelming burden on public health resources

What is required by the EU?

The Soil Association calls for the following EU actions:

  1. EU binding policy measures:
    We are asking the EU why it has regulated against illegal timber, illegal fishing and conflict minerals but has yet to regulate agricultural imports that drive environmental and social destruction? We support the conclusions in the 2018 Fern and Forest Trends report that, although private sector voluntary commitments such as ‘zero deforestation commitments’ are a crucial first step, they will not be effective without enforced regulation. Such measures must include development of binding bilateral arrangements with supplier country governments. Measures to enforce transparency regarding the allocation of land must be central.

  2. EU support for sustainable agricultural commodity production: 
    There are many existing models for sustainable production systems and innovations which enable the possibility of sustainable production at a landscape level, and sustainable livelihoods for smallholders. These solutions – such as assurance schemes and verified sourcing areas, now require essential demand side support from the EU and national governments. This support must include embedding these mechanisms in procurement and sourcing policies, as well as linking them to due diligence for the implementation of binding policy measures. EU support for sustainable production might also take the form of increased funding for standard setting and assurance mechanisms so that they can scale up, increase harmonisation, and address landscape level impacts.
  1. EU policy coherence:
    We are calling for full policy coherence by the EU with regards to the drivers of deforestation. For example, renewable energy policy must not incentivise bioenergy production from forest risk commodities, and food policy must incentivise a sustainable diet for all EU citizens.
  1. Increased financial support for forest protection and sustainable forest use:
    We call on the EU to play its part in rebalancing global investment; globally, governments and the private sector spend about $100 US billion a year subsidising and investing in forest-destroying agricultural expansion and land development, yet only $1 US billion investing in forest conservation. The forests that are being lost due to EU inaction provide global public goods, and the EU must pioneer financial incentives to reward forested countries and communities for the benefits to EU citizens that their forests provide.


Did you know that our trading subsidiary Soil Association Certification Limited, certifies over 15 million hectares of sustainably managed forest globally, to FSC and PEFC standards? Find out more.

For more information about our consultation response please contact:

Daisy Blackhurst, Standards Impact Manager
Clive Thomas, Senior Policy and Strategy Advisor, Forestry