What is the problem with forest risk commodities?

Between 2001 and 2015, land clearances for cattle, soy, oil palm, cocoa, rubber, coffee and wood products were responsible for 58% of all agriculture-linked deforestation. Much of this deforestation is illegal. A significant proportion of these goods are exported to the EU.  

The biggest single agricultural driver of global forest loss is beef production, and the EU – where meat consumption has doubled since 1950 - has for years imported beef from countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, where forests are being destroyed on an epic scale, with terrible consequences for the local environment, the climate and people’s rights. 

Intensive livestock farming in the EU is also contributing to tropical deforestation: every year the EU imports 36 million tonnes of soya grown on 15 million hectares of land, mostly from Latin America, to feed its livestock. After cattle, soy ranks as the world’s second largest agricultural driver of deforestation.

The third biggest cause of agricultural deforestation is palm oil, the world’s most commonly used vegetable oil. Palm oil is so ubiquitous it is found in everything from shampoo to pizza, toothpaste to chocolate, and is used as a biofuel. Since 1990, global palm oil production has doubled

Cocoa is another of the world’s major forest risk commodities: between 1988 and 2008 alone, its production led to the destruction of forests the size of Belgium. This devastation has continued since. A recent study used satellite data to reveal that since 2000 cocoa production was linked to more than 37% of deforestation in protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire, and 13% of deforestation in Ghana in similar areas. What’s more, the cocoa sector is tainted by the use of child labour, while many of the smallholders in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana who produce most of the crop, remain mired in desperate poverty. 

Cultivating rubber - predominantly for car, aircraft and truck tires – has extracted a terrible toll on forests, biodiversity and the soil. Rubber processing is also linked to hazardous waste, chemical smells and pollution. Twenty-five per cent of rubber produced around the world, is destined for the EU. 

Finally, there is timber. Since 2003 the EU has used its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan to prevent European consumers and companies unwittingly buying illegal timber and wood-based products. Central to this are the trade deals, known as Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) that the EU has signed with timber-producing countries. These establish legal frameworks for forests to be managed in line with social and environmental laws, as well as giving the people whose livelihoods depend on them a say in how they are run.

What is the solution?

In December 2022, after years of tough negotiations, the EU finally agreed on the text of its Regulation on deforestation free products (EUDR).  

This is the first law of its kind anywhere in the world, and requires companies selling certain key forest risk commodities – soy, beef, palm oil, wood, cocoa, timber, coffee and some derived products - on the EU market, to be able to prove that they haven’t been grown in contravention of national laws, or on land that has been deforested or degraded since 2020.  

Ensuring that the law is properly enforced, and that the voices of civil society, smallholders and Indigenous Peoples and forest communities in producer countries are heard and their needs addressed, will be key to successfully implementing it. 

But this alone won’t be enough.   

Ending the EU-driven pressure on tropical forests requires reducing our consumption of tainted goods.  

What has been achieved so far

Fern and our allies in both producing countries and the EU played a key role in pushing for the EUDR. When we first started campaigning on the issue in 2015, the consensus was that Europe would never accept the constraints on companies that such a law would entail. Seven years later, it is a reality.

What are the next steps?

Fern will work to ensure that civil society, forest communities, and Indigenous Peoples are involved in implementing and enforcing the EUDR. We will also work to ensure that smallholders who produce goods which fall under the legislation - for instance cocoa farmers in West Africa and oil palm producers in Indonesia - are properly supported.

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