The Environment Bill must include a “due diligence” regulation requiring companies to guarantee they are not contributing to deforestation or polluting other parts of the world.
According to WWF, the new chapter in the Bill would address Britain’s “global footprint”, and include a legally-binding target to ensure the supply chains of British companies are deforestation-free by the end of this year.
The Environment Bill returned to Parliament in January, with what the government referred to as “enhanced powers” to prevent exports of plastic waste to developing countries.
However, WWF claimed that the Bill fails to account for the impact that food consumed here has on the environment overseas. Under WWF’s proposals, businesses would need to assess all goods they are importing to ensure they are “aware of and addressing negative impacts on people or wildlife”.
“Deforestation is hidden even in food that appears home-grown,” said Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns, as she launched the NGO’s new campaign “Let's get deforestation #OffOurPlates”.
She added: “Action by individual businesses or consumers isn’t enough. We need the UK Government to show decisive leadership to take deforestation off our plates with legislation that makes it illegal to import products that contribute to the destruction of forests.”
The UK’s reliance on soya, principally to feed livestock, is a particular problem. Annual imports of the commodity take up more than 1.5m hectares of land, and whilst some companies have made commitments to tackle deforestation in their supply chains, voluntary action isn’t delivering the change needed.
As Footprint reported earlier this month, 27% of soya consumed in the UK is now covered by a deforestation- and conversion-free soya standard, up from 15% the previous year. However, this is likely to be too little too late to meet the “zero deforestation by 2020” commitments many of the major food brands made a decade ago.
Food consumed in the UK is linked to the threatened extinction of an estimated 33 species, including jaguars, giant anteaters and three-toed sloths.