IT'S CALLED 'the Brazilian miracle' but rocketing demand in turning soy into an environmental disaster while foodservice firms stand by and do nothing. David Burrows reports.
Foodservice companies have come under fire for their lazy buying practices when it comes to soy. Elior, Sodexo, Compass and Nando’s have all been criticised as part of a major investigation by the environmental group WWF showing that very few companies are aware of buying practices further down their supply chains. Of those that have committed to ensure that their supply chains use only sustainable soy, it’s the grocers that come out on top.
“Some sectors are doing well,” says WWF-UK’s food policy manager, Duncan Williamson. “We certainly need to take our hats off to the retail sector – they are the ones looking at their whole supply chain.”
It’s a very different story for foodservice firms. “My feeling is that they haven’t been challenged on this before,” Williamson says, explaining how frustrated he is by those that didn’t even respond to the survey. This will always set alarm bells ringing – “it shows a lack of understanding in their supply chains” – particularly with a crop as economically important and environmentally damaging as soy.
In the past few years, demand for soy has rocketed in line with increased meat consumption. Between 1976 and 2007, global pork, egg and poultry production increased 294%, 353% and 711% respectively. To feed all these animals, soy production has more than doubled in the space of 15 years – from 130m tonnes in 1996 to 270m in 2012.
As a result, soy fields now cover more than 1m square kilometres of the world (that’s France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined), and this expansion has devastated natural habitats in soy- producing countries such as Brazil. Tropical forests and savannahs have been devastated, putting wildlife under threat and displacing local communities.
With soy production expected to hit 514m tonnes by 2050 according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the buying practices of the big companies need to change. They have to start taking responsibility for what goes on down their supply chains.
The first step is to join the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a multi-stakeholder initiative that boasts 150 members but too few foodservice companies. The next is to buy the raw material it certifies – the RTRS has developed and implemented global standards for responsible soy production.
Williamson says: “Nando’s are a trusted brand“ so if the company “turned around tomorrow and said: ‘We want responsibly- sourced soy’ then that would send a huge message. But my feeling is that they haven’t been challenged on this before.”
Nando’s was one of those, alongside Compass, that failed to respond to WWF’s survey – even when the deadline was extended. A spokesman for the chain says that with several suppliers “we were not able to gather the answers for WWF within the deadline”.
He explains: “Soy was already on our agenda and we are in the early stages of investigating” how to source it sustainably. “We are currently in the process of re- contacting our suppliers and once we have this information we would be very happy to meet with WWF to discuss this.”
Though Elior and Sodexo did respond to WWF’s questionnaire, their procurement policy was ranked as “not yet in the starting blocks”. This put them way behind Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. M&S and Waitrose have also committed to using only RTRS- certified soy by 2015.
Of the 88 retailers, foodservice companies, feed suppliers and producers assessed, just 14 had made such a commitment. Of the 56 companies that replied, 27% had not made any commitments on responsible soy or even “no deforestation”. For Williamson, time and excuses are running out.
“Only half of the RTRS-certified produce has been sold” – leaving about a million tonnes still available – “so it’s no longer good enough to say there is no RTRS soy available,” he says.
“Taking into account current prices for soy, the additional costs for RTRS credits are negligible – less than half a percent. There
is no excuse for companies not to calculate their soy use and begin to cover it by RTRS credits now.”