British food companies, including McDonald’s, are urging the government to toughen rules designed to protect rainforests.
Ministers are considering a new law prohibiting large corporations from using products from illegally deforested land.
But companies say the law should apply to all deforestation, whether legal or illegal.
Indeed, the effect on the climate and on nature is the same whether the trees are felled legally or not.
The companies wrote a letter to the government on the day it closed its consultation on forest protection.
He says, “Restricting action to illegal deforestation would not stop the loss of natural ecosystems, especially when governments have the discretion to decide what is legal. ”
The 21 signatories include Unilever, Tesco, Lidl, Nando’s, Nestlé, ready-made meal maker Greencore and chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride.
Currently, the government’s plans refer only to large companies like these, but signatories say it would allow mid-sized companies to continue importing large amounts of products from previously forested land.
They are pushing for a level playing field so that small operators do not gain a competitive advantage.
The letter is somewhat of a breakthrough for environmental activists.
They have long argued that it is unnecessary for the UK to protect its own landscape – as the Prime Minister intends to say – if ingredients in foods or forages such as beef, cocoa, soy, rubber and palm oil have contributed to environmental destruction abroad.
Robin Willoughby, Green Group Mighty Earth, said: “The proposed legislation would continue to allow rampant deforestation in hot spots like Indonesia and Brazil (where much of the deforestation is legal).
“With the Amazon in flames and forests felled at an alarming rate, nature fails to recognize the difference between legal and illegal deforestation. “
A government spokesperson agreed that agricultural expansion should not damage other ecosystems and promised ministers to explore ways to avoid this “displacement” effect.
The spokesperson said the fight against illegal logging was the obvious place to start.
She added, “Our proposed approach is designed to tackle illegal deforestation which accounts for nearly 50% of deforestation globally, but closer to 90% in key biomes, including part of the Amazon.
“If the existing forest laws in Brazil were properly enforced, experts estimate that forest cover would increase by 10%. “
Chris Brown, Director of Sustainable Procurement at Asda, said: “We welcome the efforts of the government so far to tackle deforestation.
“But current plans will not be enough to protect fragile ecosystems.
“We need comprehensive reporting throughout the supply chain, as well as incentives for suppliers who are moving towards more environmentally friendly production. ”
Consumers are increasingly unhappy with products linked to illegal deforestation, especially in the Amazon.
According to a recent survey by environmental group WWF, 67% of UK consumers say they want the government to do more to tackle the problem.
Around 81% of respondents wanted greater transparency on the origin of products imported into the UK.
These concerns are fueled by reports showing that deforestation in the Amazon has increased sharply this year.
Cutting down trees and clearing land, usually for agriculture, is estimated to be responsible for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
While some environmentalists have supported the letter to the government, others say the proposed targets are inadequate.
McDonald’s, for example, has set a deadline of 2030 to remove rainforest products from its supply chain – a date critics say is far too late.
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