By Brian Monteith – 5 minute read
EARLIER THIS YEAR the European Commission proposed a new law to halt deforestation and minimise the EU’s impact on forests worldwide. Its aim was to prevent beef, palm oil and other products linked to deforestation from being sold in the EU single market of 446 million consumers. But campaigners and critics have highlighted that the impact assessment reveals “significant omissions” in the plans, including the exclusion of endangered grasslands and wetlands, as well as products that raise environmental concerns, such as rubber and maize.
EU-causes deforestation equal to the size of Ireland
Recent investigations by Global Witness shows for the first time that EU demand for rubber is the most important contributor to Europe’s deforestation footprint across west and Central Africa deforestation. And the EU’s demand for meat is also driving global deforestation. According to the US Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute the average per capita meat consumption per person in the EU countries is 77.1 kilograms – almost twice as much as the world’s average (38.7 kilograms).
The EU is the second-largest destination market for forest and ecosystem risk commodities (FERCs) after China. EU consumption is cited as currently responsible for around 10% of global deforestation: every year, the EU causes around 72,900 square kilometres of forest loss, an area the size of the Republic of Ireland.
Why is the EU banning some produce but not others?
- Under the pretence of stopping imported deforestation, the EU is furthering its protectionist agenda.
- The EU has very conveniently ignored imported commodities that are causing deforestation and the regions affected the most by the EU imports. Instead, the EU’s law focuses on commodities that can affect its domestic industries.
- Campaigners had highlighted that the EU is getting it wrong. They criticised the exclusion from the proposals of rubber, leather, maize and other kinds of meat, linking pigs and chickens to “embedded deforestation” through the use of soy as animal feed.
- Similarly, the fragile Cerrado grasslands and the Pantanal wetlands, both under threat from soy and beef exploitation, have been excluded.
- Global Witness report highlights that even though EU’s demand for rubber is the biggest driver of deforestation in west and Central Africa, the EU excluded the commodity in its law to halt deforestation.
- The EU imports 30% of all rubber shipped by Africa’s top producers, worth 12 times more than its imports of palm oil from the same region.
- EU officials previously concluded that maize and rubber only account for a small fraction of deforestation, while overall trade in these goods is large, meaning that “a very large effort” will generate “little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption”.
- Earlier, under the disguise of environmentalism and climate impact, the EU introduced a Farm-to-Fork strategy that promotes national agri-food products and discourages imported products and is outright protectionist.
- According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, as a result of the F2F strategy, the number of people suffering from food insecurity globally would rise by 22 million. Additionally, developing countries will struggle to comply with the new EU standards.
- The EU has been consistently targeting the Palm Oil industry saying that it is driving deforestation in south-east Asia. However, 90% of the palm oil consumed / imported in the EU is sustainable. This constant targeting of palm oil is driven by European vegetable oil producers’ lobby.
- France, one of the leading producers of rapeseed oil and the leader of the EU when the draft law was introduced, was pushing the restrictions to protect its domestic rapeseed oil industry.
Deforestation and the rubber supply chain
- Analysis of satellite imagery and trade data shows for the first time that EU demand for rubber is the most important contributor to Europe’s deforestation footprint across west and central Africa deforestation in tropical forests across Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria.
- Communities have reportedly lost access to their lands without their consent to make way for certain rubber plantations.
- EU imports 30% of all rubber shipped by Africa’s top producers, worth 12 times more than its imports of palm oil from the same region.
- Rubber imports were excluded from the draft EU law to protect global forests after tyre industry lobbying.
- Major banks in the EU have provided over €1.5bn in financing to multinationals linked to rubber-driven deforestation in the region.
- Global Witness called for the EU to tighten up its anti-deforestation law by ensuring rubber imports are deforestation-free, protecting indigenous and land rights and obliging financial institutions to undertake thorough due diligence.
Why targeting Palm Oil makes no sense
- The palm oil industry has been persecuted than any other agricultural sector because of its past links to deforestation. Even though 90% of palm oil imported in the EU is now sustainable and does not cause deforestation, to protect its local vegetable industry, the EU has ignored the improvements made and instead created barriers for farm holders from south-east Asia.
- Policymakers in the EU have always ignored the fact that palm oil is way more sustainable than any other vegetable oils. The oil yields for palm per hectare is almost 6-10 times that of other oilseeds such as rapeseed, soybean, olive, or sunflower. To replace palm oil would mean nine times more land allocation to produce a similar amount of oil from these alternative crops. This factor of comparative yields remains a compelling reason for recognising the positive role that Palm Oil can play in reducing the agricultural impact on the environment.
- University of Bath scientists recently showed in Nature Sustainability that banning palm oil could drive greater rates of deforestation, by switching demand to less efficient edible oils like sunflower or rapeseed which use more land, water and fertiliser.
- Deforestation from palm oil has fallen to a four-year low: Deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea attributed to the development of oil palm plantations has fallen to its lowest level since 2017 according to satellite analysis published from Chain Reaction Research (CRR), a risk analysis group.
- According to Forest 500 analysis by non-profit research group Global Canopy, among all the commodities that are linked to deforestation, commitments are more common in palm oil supply chains (72% of companies have made a deforestation commitment) than other commodities including pulp and paper (49%), soy (40%), beef (30%) and leather (28%).
- Companies reporting on palm oil have made the most progress on deforestation when compared to other commodities such as soy, cattle products, rubber, cocoa and coffee.
- According to Global Forests Report 2020 by Carbon Disclosure Project, palm oil companies have the highest levels of rigorous no-deforestation commitments (20%), comprehensive risk assessments (25%) and integration of forest-related issues into all parts of their long-term strategic business plans (57%).
- If palm oil is banned for environmental reasons, then there should also be a focus on inefficient and resource-intensive industries like meat and dairy products which use 83% of farmland, accounting for 58% of the greenhouse emissions and only 18% of food calories. According to a WWF report, the UK depends on huge areas of overseas land to support its citizens’ lifestyles. In terms of average total annual footprint per commodity (directly linked to deforestation), Palm Oil ranks #4 among 7 commodities after Beef and Leather, Timber and Soy.
- Beef and soy production are driving more than two-thirds of the recorded habitat loss in Brazil’s Amazonand Cerrado regions and Argentina and Paraguay’s Gran Chaco region. Demand for soy is closely connected to demand for beef and other animal proteins. Between 70% and 75% of all soy becomes livestock feed—for chickens, pigs, and farmed fish, as well as for cows.
These then are the facts, decide for yourself what the EU’s motives are when it fails to act to reduce deforestation by banning some produce but not others.
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Brian Monteith is a communications consultant of forty years experience, working initially in the City and then internationally in Africa ,the Caribbean and Asia. A former member of the European and Scottish parliaments, he is now managing editor of brexit-watch.org and Director of Communications at Global Britain.
Photo of palm oil kernels from Pixabay.