Unpacking the deforestation risk in your supermarket shop

Explainer / 28 Aug 2020

The Amazon is burning, but did you know that the fires are linked to everyday items in your shopping basket? Find out more with our explainer

The smouldering fires in the Brazilian Amazon and beyond may seem a long way away from your regular supermarket shop, but the forests are being cleared to make way for beef pasture and fields of soy. And these commodities then make their way into the everyday items found on almost every supermarket shelf. 

It’s not on the label, but products containing beef, soy and palm oil could also contain hidden deforestation – which means they also contribute to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Using Forest 500 data, we’ve filled our shopping basket with some of the biggest brands linked to deforestation, highlighting that, while some companies are leading the way, the majority are not doing enough to ensure their products are deforestation-free.

How are poultry products linked to deforestation?

Rising consumption of chicken and turkey is a significant driver of deforestation, largely because soy is the most common ingredient in poultry feed and soy is one of the largest drivers of deforestation in South America.  

Bernard Matthews Turkey Dinosaurs, which are included in our shopping basket, are made from turkeys that are likely to have been raised on soy. The UK imports some 3.2 million tonnes of soy from South America every year – with some supplies traced back to areas where forests are being cleared. 

The owner of Bernard Matthews, Boparan Holdings, does not have a commitment to source deforestation-free animal feed.

Other poultry products are also at risk of containing deforestation, unless the manufacturers have taken steps to ensure they do not. And this risk is also found in eggs – a key ingredient in the Heinz salad cream in our basket. Again, manufacturer Kraft Heinz does not have a zero-deforestation commitment for soy.

So presumably there’s a risk associated with some dairy products too?

Dairy products including butter, cheese, yoghurt and cream are also at risk of containing deforestation as dairy cattle are also given a soy-based feed, meaning there is embedded soy in milk-based products. 

Our basket of goods includes Lurpak butter (made by Arla Foods), President brie (made by Groupe Lactalis), St Agur (manufactured by Groupe Savencia) and Yakult yoghurt drink (made by Yakult Honsha). None of these manufacturers has a zero-deforestation commitment for soy. 

That means they are not ensuring that the soy used in the animal feed used by their suppliers is not linked to deforestation. 

What other products does soy appear in?

Soy often appears in small quantities in chocolate products, including the Oreo cookies in our basket, and the Nutella spread. Chocolate manufacturers have listened to consumer concerns about the links between palm oil and deforestation – with the owners of both Nutella (Ferrero Group) and Oreos (Mondelez) making a zero-deforestation commitment for palm oil. But they have not made the same commitment for soy.

While tackling the risk in palm oil supply chains is crucial, rising deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes in Brazil mean that it is also essential to address deforestation from soy.

So, clearly soy is a major problem. What about cattle?

While soy is a major driver of deforestation in South America, the biggest driver is beef. Brazil exported 2.1 million tonnes of beef products in 2018, with the Brazilian beef sector accounting for one fifth of all agricultural-related deforestation across the tropics.

Beef derivatives are a key ingredient in Dr Oetker’s gelatine sachets which are included in our basket. The Oetker-Gruppe does not have a zero-deforestation commitment for its beef supply chain and does not publish information about the origins of its beef.

And what about food packaging?

The pulp and paper industries are also closely linked to deforestation, with forests cleared to make way for pulp plantations used to feed the packaging industry.

Just two of the items in our basket, Lurpak and Oreos have a zero-deforestation commitment for their packaging – with the other manufacturers failing to ensure that their packaging is deforestation-free. 

Not all of these items appear on the shelf in cardboard packaging – but they almost all would have arrived at the supermarket packed in a cardboard box.

What can consumers do?

While the links between the fires in Brazil and a jar of salad cream may be hidden from view, a recent YouGov survey found that consumers do want to better understand the environmental impacts of the products sold in supermarkets, with 56% of the UK public saying they wanted more information.

The most recent Forest 500 assessment found that no companies were yet able to guarantee that their supply chains were deforestation-free, but some companies are taking steps. 

Due diligence legislation – currently being considered in the UK and in the European Union – could require companies to ensure their supply chains are deforestation-free, forcing companies to tighten up their sourcing policies. 

The fires in the Amazon are a stark reminder that such action is urgent. Consumers can tell governments that they want legislation – but they can also tell companies that they should not wait for new laws. Companies need to make changes now.

Banner image: Amazon forest fires, Brasil2, iStock.com

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