European National Soy Initiatives support strong deforestation Regulation
Following the proposal for a Regulation on deforestation-free products that was published November 2021, various in-depth assessments, suggestions and recommendations have been published by diverse actors and experts. The ENSI platform (the platform for European National Soya Initiatives) has carefully studied the proposal and the feedback. With this reaction we would like to add a generic perspective of European National Soy Initiatives. These National Soy Initiatives are multistakeholder in nature and facilitate dialogue and collective action between supply chain actors, governments, financial institutions and civil society organizations. As such, each National Soy Initiative represents a broad variety of interests and opinions. However, all actors in the different National Soy Initiatives have a shared belief that climate change, deforestation and conversion of valuable native vegetation need to be urgently addressed.
The National Soy Initiatives (NSIs), working together within ENSI, welcome the European Commission’s initiative to create a level playing field between companies in the European Union as an important step to tackling sustainability challenges in their own supply chains. Like the European Commission is emphasizing in its proposal, also the NSIs are aware that that the urgency of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, requires a strong commitment to working towards deforestation and conversion free (soy) supply chains. In their joint statement, the NSIs commit to organizing that: 100% of their (countries’) soya consumption is produced according to the law and in a way that protects forests and valuable native vegetation (deforestation and conversion free).
At the same time, NSIs want to emphasize that the goal should not be to clean up the European supply chain without also addressing the real problems. Disengagement from risk regions will not prevent deforestation and land conversion from happening there. With that in mind, the NSIs would like to highlight the following suggestions to improve the legislative proposal, reflecting both the reality of international soy supply chains and the desire to create real impact on the ground.
1. Broaden the scope to include conversion of all ecosystems
In line with ENSI’s mission statement, ENSI emphasizes the need to already include the protection of more natural ecosystems besides forests, such as other wooded land and natural grassland, in the current Regulation. These other ecosystems are increasingly recognised to sequester vast amounts of carbon underground and they are home to a large variety of plant and animal species, in addition to playing an important role in water resources protection. The problem of land conversion is too serious 2
to wait until the next revision of the legislation. ENSI is concerned that the scope of the current proposal limits the potential effects on biodiversity and climate. In addition to focusing on tropical forests, the international soy sector is seeking solutions for halting conversion in biomes like the Cerrado, Pantanal and Gran Chaco, which are mixed landscapes of savannah, woodland and forest ecosystems. ENSI supports the addition of ‘other wooded lands’ as proposed by the Hansen report and would encourage the commission to also add ‘natural grasslands’ to the Regulation.
2. Recognise the important work done by the Accountability Framework Initiative
ENSI finds it important to mention that the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi) has gained ground in the soy sector, and in other sectors as well. This initiative is set up by a broad variety of civil society organizations and academic partners and aims at streamlining definitions and approaches to achieve supply chains without deforestation, conversion and human rights violations. Increasingly, companies are following the definitions and practices presented in this framework, allowing for serious, measurable and comparable action towards deforestation and conversion free, responsible supply chains. Alignment of the definitions used in the legislation with the definitions from the AFi is recommended in order to have a common language about the goals and tools needed for the transition.
3. Recognize existing initiatives and prevent undermining of more ambitious commitments
The soy supply chain has implemented voluntary measures to halt deforestation in tropical forests, for instance via the Amazon Soy Moratorium, which includes a cut-off date of July 2008. Various sectors or companies are working with credible third-party certified materials such as soy certified under the ProTerra or RTRS standards which work with a cut-off date of 2008 (PT), 2009 (RTRS, high conservation areas) or 2015 (RTRS, all ecosystem conversion) respectively. The ISEAL Alliance has done important work to set quality standards for certification systems, which are increasingly seen as a reference for stakeholder inclusion and credible certification practices. Recently, ISO standards for Chain of Custody models have been created, to streamline definitions and practices for guaranteeing a chain of custody in international supply chains. Although this Regulation is urgently needed to create a level playing field and the necessary sense of urgency; and although existing certification and verification measures cannot release operators from their due diligence obligations, the NSIs feel that it is important to acknowledge and build upon the work that has been done. Therefore, the NSIs call on the European Commission to acknowledge the role of credible voluntary initiatives, such as robust certification systems, high-quality Monitoring Reporting Verification (MRV) systems, biome wide Moratoria and harmonized definitions and methodologies, in protecting forests and other ecosystems. In addition to acknowledging the work that has been done, it is crucial to include strong wording meant to prevent the undermining of more ambitious existing initiatives, especially in relation to the cut-off date of 31 December 2020, since the soy landscape is used to work with stricter cutoff dates. 3
4. Add the reference to the (land) rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities
Recently indigenous peoples and local communities from soy producing countries have flagged the need to include the notion of protecting land rights in tropical forests and other ecosystems in a serious way in the European legislation. These communities face severe violence on a frequent basis and are threatened by expansion of agriculture. ENSI supports the suggestion made in the Hansen report that companies placing goods on the EU market should respect international law and standards on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) in addition to respecting national legislation and the no-deforestation requirement.
5. Provide more insights into partnerships with producing countries
For the work of the NSIs in the soy supply chain, cooperation with partners in producing countries is of utmost importance. To facilitate partnerships, it is important to recognize the efforts in production countries to halt deforestation and conversion and to look for cooperation. Therefore, ENSI strongly welcomes the concept of partnerships that was added to the proposal. However, a better understanding of what these partnerships mean in practice is needed. In addition to a further elaboration of the concept of ‘partnerships’, the NSIs also would like to emphasize that the law would have an adverse impact when it results in companies moving away to low-risk sourcing-regions or countries. Rather than cleaning supply chains with Europe as their destination, European actors should invest in producers in high-risk regions and jointly work on sustainable commodity production and the protection of native vegetation. Already today, some NSIs are investing in landscape projects such as the SoyChaco project and those falling under the SourceUp platform, to make an impact in those regions where deforestation and land conversion are most prominent. Recognizing the need to tackle deforestation and land conversion in a commodity overarching manner, by involving local authorities and stakeholders would give strength to the innovative solutions that are currently designed and implemented in frontrunning countries.
6. Need for commodity specific guidance
Supporting the suggestions in the Hansen report and the joint reaction of FEFAC, FEDIOL, COCERAL and the European Coffee Federation, ENSI also emphasizes the need for commodity specific guidance, although the creation of this guidance should not delay the legislative process. This guidance should include the acknowledgment of impactful existing initiatives, credible soy standards that may be used as a mitigation instrument, specifications of the traceability to plot requirement, additional information on the benchmark of soy producing countries and a further elaboration on the role of local authorities in verifying compliance with the legislation in a way that does not place a high burden on the logistics in the soy chain. 4
7. Prevent a lower ambition level due to the war in Ukraine
The current horrifying situation in Ukraine is increasingly used to pledge for a less strict regulation and even temporarily delete soy from the proposal. ENSI urges the European Commission not to weaken this legislation. The Communication released by the European Commission on Safeguarding food security and reinforcing the resilience of food systems provides clear argumentation and measures to make sure food security and sustainability can go hand in hand.
Last but not least, ENSI and the NSIs under the ENSI flag, stand ready to engage with European policy makers in order to provide input to the legislation and make sure the joint ambition can be realized. The NSI’s feel strengthened in their journey to deforestation and conversion free soy supply chains, supported by the European Commission and mandatory legislation. The NSIs will continue to implement solutions that contribute to halting deforestation and land conversion and look forward to working together on next steps.
ENSI, on behalf of the National Soya Initiatives