EU soy imports linked to illegal deforestation in Brazil

2 Jun 2020

New analysis finds 95% of deforestation on soy farms in Brazil’s biggest soy-producing state illegal

European countries imported soy from farms in Brazil likely to be linked to illegal deforestation, according to new analysis focused on illegality on soy farms in Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest soy-producing state [1]. 

New analysis carried out by Trase [2] in partnership with Brazilian NGOs ICV and Imaflora, found that 19% of soy imports from Mato Grosso to the EU in 2018 were likely to have come from farms where illegal deforestation had taken place – trade worth approximately US$ 295 million.

The European Union is the second biggest importer of soy from Mato Grosso, importing approximately 3.9 million tonnes in 2018, mainly for use in animal feed.

The links to illegal deforestation will raise concerns among European governments and manufacturing and retail companies – many of whom have made high profile commitments to eradicate deforestation from their supply chains by 2020 [3].

The EU is currently looking to introduce new legislation to require companies to carry out due diligence on forest-risk supply chains [4]. 

Trase researcher and report lead author André Vasconcelos said:

“We found worrying levels of illegal deforestation on soy farms in Mato Grosso, and a significant amount of that soy was likely to have been imported into the EU.”

“The problem appears to be limited to just a small number of farms, and could be addressed. Soy buyers and importers could send a strong signal to the Brazilian soy industry that illegal deforestation is unacceptable. It is crucial to check the legal compliance of their suppliers.”

The researchers identified 1.6 million hectares of illegal deforestation in Mato Grosso between 2012 and 2017, with roughly a quarter (360,000 hectares) found to be on soy farms.  

Illegal deforestation was identified on 2252 soy farms in total. Half of this deforestation was found on just 100 farms.

The researchers estimate that most of the soy grown on these farms was exported (81%), with almost 14% likely to have been exported to the European Union. 

Soy has long been recognised as a key driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado, but there had been little evidence until now showing the links between soy production and illegal deforestation.

Many buyers have relied on the voluntary Soy Moratorium initiative to ensure that soy imports are not linked to deforestation in the Amazon – but the Moratorium only checks whether soy was grown on deforested land, and does not check if deforestation has occurred elsewhere on the farm – which leaves room for non-compliance with national regulations including illegal deforestation [5]. It also provides no protection for soy sourced from the ecologically important Cerrado region.

Paula Bernasconi, ICV coordinator, commented:

“Despite crucial improvements in transparency and a recently implemented new deforestation alert system in Mato Grosso, deforestation continues to increase in 2020, showing the need for combined actions with deeper supply chain involvement to eliminate illegal deforestation. In the case of soy, the advantage is that the problem is highly concentrated, making it easier for markets to act.”

[1] Trase, ICV and Imaflora, Illegal deforestation and Brazilian soy exports: the case of Mato Grosso, June 2020,
[2] Trase is an online platform developed by Global Canopy and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) that offers intelligence and brings unprecedented transparency for deforestation-free supply chains.
[3] National governments and a number of companies are signatories to the New York Declaration on Forests, which set a goal to eradicate deforestation from commodity supply chains by 2020.
[4] See
[5] The Soy Moratorium is a voluntary initiative to blacklist soy from farms with illegal deforestation. The Moratorium has proved effective at limiting soy grown on deforested land, but does not monitor deforestation elsewhere on the farm.

Banner image: Farmed soy, Rodrigo Vargas, ICV

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