Big food companies urge soy traders to help save Brazil savanna

Illegal coal furnaces are destroyed during a raid operation aimed to protect the savannah in Niquelandia
Illegal coal furnaces are destroyed during a raid operation aimed to protect the cerrado (savannah) in Niquelandia, 200 km (124 miles) from Brasilia, September 11, 2009. REUTERS/Roberto Jayme

SAO PAULO, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Companies including Tesco (TSCO.L), Walmart (WMT.N), Unilever (ULVR.L) and McDonald's (MCD.N) on Tuesday said they had urged major commodities traders to stop dealing in soy linked to deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado, a vast savanna region and vital carbon storehouse.

Signatories of the Cerrado Manifesto Statement of Support, which joins 163 companies,said in a statement they had written to Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM) (ADM.N), Bunge Ltd (BG.N), Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) (AKIRAU.UL), Cargill Inc (CARG.UL), COFCO International and Glencore (GLEN.L) in November asking them to stop sourcing soy, directly or indirectly, from areas cleared in the Cerrado after 2020.

None of the trading houses agreed to the measures, the statement said.

“We’re calling on traders to step up their own commitments and implement robust monitoring, verification and reporting systems within the region, and set a 2020 deforestation and conversion-free cut-off date for soy from the Cerrado,” said Anna Turrell, Tesco’s head of environment.

The largest savanna in South America, the Cerrado currently produces about 60% of all soybeans in Brazil - the world's No. 1 exporter of the oilseed crushed to make animal feed and cooking oil.

The Cerrado's natural vegetation plays a crucial role in storing carbon dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests is increasing carbon emissions, warming the Earth's climate and contributing to rising sea levels, severe storms and other problems.

Wildlife, too, is under threat, including rare hyacinth macaws, maned wolves and jaguars that call the shrinking savanna home. So are thousands of plants, fish, insects and other creatures found nowhere else on earth, many of which are only beginning to be studied.

Calls for saving the Cerrado from deforestation are complicated by Brazilian law, which allows landholders to clear up to 80% of native vegetation.

Environmental groups criticized Cargill last year after the company said it and the broader food industry would miss the goal of eliminating deforestation from the supply chain by 2020. (

Companies in North America are encouraging farmers there to adopt more sustainable practices, due to consumer pressure and expectations of more regulation.

In a statement on its website, Cargill said it recognizes “the urgency to address deforestation and native vegetation land conversion in the Cerrado.”

It added that "Cargill will not supply soy from farmers who clear land illegally or in protected areas, and we have the same expectation of our suppliers.”

An ADM spokesperson, in response to a Reuters request for comment, said “ADM has a strict No Deforestation Policy in place, and we have satellite technology in place to ensure that we can enforce our policy.”

Bunge said it "does not source soy from illegally deforested areas" and "is dedicated to a sustainable supply chain and has a public commitment, since 2015, to eliminate deforestation from all our supply chains by 2025, the earliest deadline in the industry."

COFCO, Louis Dreyfus and Glencore did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio

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