Cargill says food industry will miss zero deforestation goal

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Grains trader Cargill Inc said on Thursday it and the broader food industry will fail to meet the goal of eliminating deforestation by 2020 and pledged to do more to protect forests and native vegetation in Brazil.

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Cargill’s statement follows data showing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, a top supplier of soybeans to Cargill, sped up in May to the fastest rate in a decade.

The world’s largest consumer brands pledged in 2010 a zero net deforestation goal by 2020, set by global umbrella body the Consumer Goods Forum.

“Despite our collective efforts, our industry will fall short of a 2020 goal to eliminate deforestation,” Ruth Kimmelshue, Cargill’s Chief Sustainability Officer, said.

“The climate is changing and there is an urgent need to take action to end deforestation,” she said.

Greenpeace earlier this week said at least 50 million hectares of forest, an area the size of Spain, would be destroyed during the 10 years the corporate commitment was valid.

The Consumer Goods Forum said in response its members had played an important role in addressing environmental issues. However, it said “the forces driving deforestation are more complex than almost any stakeholder realized in 2010.”

Environmentalists have pointed to the easing of environmental protections under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s five-month-old government as encouraging illegal logging in South America’s largest nation.

They also say that while global outcries have focused on saving the Amazon, agriculture has led to more destruction of Brazil’s tropical savanna.

Cargill, the largest privately held U.S. company, pledged to start a comprehensive risk assessment of its soy supply chain and committed $30 million to find solutions to protect forests and native vegetation in Brazil.

Mighty Earth, a global environmental campaign organization, criticized the plan.

“The amount Cargill has pledged toward forest protection is but a tiny fraction of the amount they spend funding forest destruction through their purchases and financing,” CEO Glenn Hurowitz said in a statement.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Phil Berlowitz