Bunge and Cargill linked to soya supply chains with deforestation risk

France has named agriculture traders Bunge and Cargill as the leading importers of soyabeans from areas at risk of deforestation, one of the main contributors to global warming.

The companies have been identified as the French government tries to clean up the country’s agriculture supply chains with the launch of an online database that tracks soyabean exports from Brazil to France.

The database shows about a quarter of Brazilian exports of soyabeans to France in 2018 came from areas hit by deforestation.

Brazil is the world’s biggest producer of the legume, which is mainly used as livestock feed and oil. Its production has been one of the causes of deforestation of tropical rainforest over several decades.

The Amazon and Brazilian savannahs are critical buffers against climate change, acting as giant stores of carbon. In the year to July, the rate of deforestation of the Amazon was the highest in 15 years, according to official Brazilian data.

The online database, which was launched by the French ecological transition ministry with the help of supply chain transparency group Trase and environmental NGO Canopee, highlights the role of the world’s largest agricultural traders in handling commodities potentially linked to deforestation.

Bar chart of 2018 Brazil soyabeans, soyabean product exports to France ('000 tonnes) showing Top soyabean traders from Brazil to France

It showed Bunge accounted for 70 per cent of cargoes, where soyabeans came from areas threatened by the high risk of deforestation, while Cargill accounted for almost 10 per cent.

Bunge said it was committed to reaching deforestation-free supply chains by 2025 and had already removed some farmers linked to deforested land from its supply chain.

Cargill said the platform’s data did not reflect French imports, adding that it was committed to eliminating deforestation in the shortest time possible, but that there was no single solution to the issue.

The French government said traders and other businesses were invited to share their data to improve the quality of the analysis.

Nico Muzi, at environmental campaign group Mighty Earth, said traders dictated the conditions of the global soya market, and could make material changes if they felt under pressure.

Some 411,000 tonnes out of 1.57m of soyabeans, or products made from it, exported from Brazil to France in 2018, were associated with high deforestation risk, according to the French website.

France imports about 3m tonnes of soya meal, or about 17 per cent of the EU total a year, according to the government’s ministry of ecological transition. “Monitoring the flow of these imports that present a risk to the forests . . . will help with supply chain risk,” it said.

The release of the online database comes soon after a global commitment to halt the destruction of the world’s forests at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The EU also published draft regulation that would force companies to prove that products they sold into the bloc did not contribute to legal or illegal deforestation or forest degradation.

However, the figures on the French website did not prove that the soyabeans were grown in deforested areas, said the ecology ministry, adding it would contact traders about deforestation risk in their supply chains.

French supermarket group Carrefour, a member of the government working group that helped develop the platform, said it would use the data to eliminate soya livestock feed linked to deforestation from its supply chains by 2025.

The group, along with other leading French retailers, last year signed a soya manifesto to tackle deforestation and destruction of savannahs. Retailers and food companies in the UK have followed, signing a similar manifesto in November.

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