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Inflammatory headline hides the truth on soya

14th Aug 2020 / By Lizzie Wilson

The recent Grocer article based on a report produced by sustainability advisors 3Keel and sponsored by all the major UK supermarkets, firmly pointed the finger at the pig industry and a lack of transparency throughout the soya supply chain, in fuelling deforestation. Our downfall, the article suggests is that due to our sector being comprised of many independent producers (unlike poultry) who simply buy standard rations from feed compounders, we are unable to declare origin or sustainability spec of that soya. It’s true that feed traceability within the pig industry does present greater challenges in comparison to other sectors that are more vertically integrated, but as a sector who has purposefully reduced its reliance on soya by 50% over the past 10 years or so, this doesn’t mean we’re not committed to doing more.

Recent data collated by AIC and the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya for 2019 shows, overall, that 57% of total UK imported soya is either from a country where there is no risk of deforestation (e.g. US/Canada), covered by zero deforestation standards or compliant to the Amazon Soy Moratorium, with an increasing proportion used in the pig sector. By buying from no risk areas such as the US, we are not contributing to the demand for soya grown on deforested or converted land. But is this enough? Particularly when some are looking to the UK as leaders on soya policy, to help catalyse the global change required to stop habitat destruction in Argentina’s Gran Chaco for example. Whilst NGO’s in particular, understandably want to see progress as quickly as possible, converting to 100% sustainable soya is a slow process and not without significant additional cost. Economic and political instability in countries such as Argentina and Brazil from where some UK soya is sourced also means progress is difficult. We must be cognisant that moving too quickly may result in the UK losing our ability to influence positive and tangible benefits in those countries that produce soya, and that the demand signal to the market needs to be gradual, so delivery can keep pace and demand doesn’t push the price unfeasibly high.

Whilst much of the momentum is being driven by retailers, who may be starting to demand the use of sustainable soya throughout their British supply chains, are they demanding the same standard of their imported product? Sustainable soya initiatives should also be supported by other European member states to ensure UK producers are not undermined by imported product not produced to equivalent standards.