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Responsible soy on the way

The creation of the first international organisation to reduce negative impacts of soy production was announced at the Second Conference of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) which took place in Asunción, Paraguay from Aug 31 to Sep 1, 2006. The new organisation is an initiative of soy producers, processors and traders, as well as financial institutions and non governmental organisations. It is also a response to mounting consumer demand for environmental and socially sound soy.

The organisation's immediate task will be to develop globally applicable principles, criteria, and indicators for the production, processing and trade of soy in a responsible manner within a period of no more than 18 months. The 200 participants who attended the conference agreed that the principles and criteria should reflect issues such as protecting biodiversity from conversion of natural habitats to agriculture, better agricultural practices, and full compliance with labour laws.

"Enough is enough; deforestation for agriculture has to stop. The formal creation of the RTRS and the commitment of key global players to adopt principles and criteria for responsible soy is therefore a landmark decision," said Leonardo Lacerda, Manager of WWF's International Forest Conservation Programme. "The private sector is beginning to understand that it needs to do its homework - and quickly - in order to avoid less desirable outcomes such as product boycotts or the establishment of non-tariff barriers to eradicate irresponsibly produced soy."

Soybeans are used in the production of edible oil, cosmetics, foods, and feed for cattle, pigs, poultry and fish. The principles and criteria will provide a market mechanism to address key negative environmental and social impacts of soy production and its expansion. In Europe, for example, soy traders and retailers have been under attack for buying soy from producers that are fueling deforestation of valuable conservation habitats in places such as the Amazon and the Cerrado (wooded savannahs) of South America. Likewise, in some cases, the soy sector has been criticized for deforestation, illegal appropriation of public lands, displacement of small-farmers and indigenous peoples, and the lack of compliance with labour laws.

"This conference has delivered what we were hoping for a clear timeline and a strong commitment to develop criteria and indicators to ensure responsibility within the soy supply chain and most of all, clear commitment from our suppliers," said Jan Nicolai of Nutreco, a leading animal feed supplier.

"Major steps still have to be taken, but we have made substantial progress over the last two days," added Martin Tielen, President of the European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC).

"This initiative sets an example of how market actors and governments can cooperate. Our host country, Paraguay, has shown that this is possible when there is political will," said Bella Roscher, WWF's International Coordinator for Soy.

In 2004, Paraguay passed the Zero Deforestation Law prohibiting the transformation and conversion of forested areas in the eastern region of Paraguay. In two years only, it was able to reduce its annual deforestation rate by 85% in that area. "Soy production and export income in this period has increased, demonstrating that development can go hand in hand with environmental protection," added Ms Roscher.

Notes to the editor

  1. The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) was initiated by WWF and other actors as a forum for all stakeholders involved and affected by soy cultivation to voice their concerns. It provides stakeholders and interested parties environment and social NGOs, business and industry with the opportunity to jointly develop global solutions leading to responsible soy production. These include development of criteria for the responsible production and sourcing of soy. The first Roundtable conference was held in March 2005 in Brazil and attracted a vast range of players throughout the supply chain as well as civil society and government agencies. For more, visit www.responsiblesoy.org.

  2. Members of the Organizing Committee of the 2nd Global Conference of the Round Table on Responsible Soy are:
    • AAPRESID (Argentine Association of No Till Rural Producers), an environmentally aware producers' association.
    • ABIOVE, the Brazilian Oilseed Processors' Association. Its 11 associate members are responsable for approximately 72% of Brazil's soybean crush volume. Members include Amaggi, Bunge, Cargill, Coinbra, Imcopa.
    • ABN AMRO, the Netherlands's largest bank with offices in 60 countries, and a leading financial institution in the field of sustainability.
    • Coop Switzerland, a Swiss retailer active for several years in the field of sustainable production of food and non-food products.
    • Grupo André Maggi, a leading Brazilian soy producer and processor.
    • Guyra Paraguay, an environmental NGO, the Paraguayan branch of BirdLife International.
    • IPAM (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia), a Brazilian environmental NGO focusing on the Amazon.
    • Solidaridad, a church-linked development NGO based in the Netherlands, working on fair-trade and corporate social responsibility.
    • Unilever, Anglo Dutch food manufacturer with operations in over 100 countries, and markets in over 150 countries.
    • WWF, the global conservation organisation.

  3. The event has the support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (seco).