Drawing out links between the Common Agricultural Policy, soy, and deforestation in South America

4 May 2017

The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is fuelling tropical deforestation, according to a new report published by Fern at an event in the European Parliament yesterday. The event was hosted by MEP Maria Noichl (pictured, above), and chaired by Monika Hoegen. The report, Agriculture and deforestation – The EU Common Agricultural Policy, soy and forest destruction - looks at the links between CAP and soy imports from South America, where the expansion of the crop has resulted in large-scale deforestation, much of it illegal. We organised a lively discussion at the European Parliament to mark the launch of the report. If you missed it, you can watch the entire event here.

European farmers rely on soy imports from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to use as animal feed, mostly for pigs and chicken but also for cattle, other farm animals and farmed fish. Soy production in these countries is clearly linked to large-scale deforestation and land rights violations. While the CAP provides financial incentives for EU farmers to produce meat, it offers relatively few to produce sustainable feed for the animals, meaning that it’s cheaper for them to rely on soy imports from countries where its production is driving deforestation. As the EU embarks on another round of CAP reform, it must implement measures to reduce farmers’ reliance on disastrous soy imports. The new CAP should put conditions on farmers’ payments so that they only support socially and ecologically viable production. For animal feed this means meeting specific criteria on respecting land tenure rights and ensuring that forests have not been cleared to produce soy.

During the event at the European Parliament, the report author Dr Adrian Muller, a scientist at the independent research institute, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), delivered a presentation with a simple message; "The next CAP reform must move clearly towards an integrated food policy, combining approaches that increase sustainability on the production level with such that target consumption."

Other measures for reform, which are highlighted in the report, include: -

  • Amending the few remaining parts of the existing CAP that provide incentives to production systems that lead to deforestation. Specifically, this means changing the CAP so that agricultural support is conditional on reducing nitrogen surpluses, and improving animal welfare.
  • Support should also increasingly be targeted towards less intensive production systems such as organic production, grassland-based livestock systems or permaculture.
  • As long as consumers want high quantities of cheap animal products, and as long as producers are allowed to meet this demand, concentrate-based mass production of livestock will dominate. Lower consumption levels and a move towards a true circular economy will be crucial in addressing this.

Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at Brazilian NGO Imazon: told participants at the event that ”The EU’s agricultural and trade policies need to stipulate strict deforestation criteria for its food and feed imports, and support the development of a soy moratorium in the Cerrado and other risk areas.”

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