Deforestation: “Flawed” DEFRA Consultation Needs Rethink

The British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is holding a six-week consultation asking business stakeholders and members of the public their views regarding forest risk commodities. It plans to draw up legislation that will restructure relationships between British traders and supply chains to encourage sustainable imports.

“We are launching this consultation to seek your view on whether the UK Government should introduce a new law designed to prevent forests and other important natural areas from being converted illegally into agricultural land…”

“…This consultation is designed to inform the Government’s response to this recommendation, seeking views from a wide range of stakeholders in the UK and internationally on the principles guiding our approach, and understand the impact on business and other interests…”

If the consultation is successful, companies found to be trading with suppliers harvesting products deemed detrimental to forest laden areas, such as the Amazon rainforest, will be fined.

Forest risk commodities are any type of produce reared or harvested in protected forested areas. This includes meat, soybeans, palm oil and any other product found to have been picked or manufactured with materials taken from vulnerable forested land.

Greenpeace has called the plan “seriously flawed”. Forest campaigner Elena Polisano told the Guardian “some commodity producers may have one ‘sustainable’ line but continue to destroy forests elsewhere”.

The issue is, although supermarkets may comply, it is incredibly difficult to verify product sourcing, as stock can change hands several times before arriving at market. Whether this is known or not, new laws will make it difficult for supermarkets to avoid checks on goods. A blanket ban may be more effective to challenge existing agricultural systems in high-risk areas.

The Amazon rainforest is the focal point of illegal deforestation. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed NGOs were setting fire to parts to the Amazon without any proof. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest farmers encouraged by Bolsonaro set alight to the Amazon in a ‘day of fire’ in a bid to drastically expand land for cultivation and cattle grazing.

Deforestation accounts for 11% of GHGs (greenhouse gas emissions) annually. Methane, a gas produced by agricultural activities, in particular cattle belching, accounts for 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions.