NGOs brand WWF’s soya roundtable a failure

A coalition of NGOs has said WWF’s Roundtable for Responsible Soy "completely fails" to address the environmental impacts of soya monoculture and "frustrates real solutions". Greenpeace, meanwhile, has set up its traceability initiative.

The third roundtable meeting to develop global standards for responsible soya production met in Argentina on 23-24 April amid a wave of criticism. Some green groups denounced the process as an attempt to create "a facade of sustainability".

Environmental groups have linked the destruction of rainforests to the boom in soya production, which has led to the crop covering millions of hectares in South America. Soya farming companies buy land cleared for farming and cattle ranching, which gives smallholders and ranchers money to clear more forest. Demand for soya, particularly for animal feed and biofuels, is expected to soar over the coming decades.

To address these concerns, WWF helped set up the Roundtable on Responsible Soy in 2004. It now has 78 members including agribusinesses Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland; feed companies; global energy giants Shell and BP; and a few retailers including Marks and Spencer, Somerfield and Carrefour Brazil.

Earlier this year the roundtable issued draft principles and criteria for consultation,1which were discussed at the April meeting and are due to be published in May 2009.

But many NGOs have criticised the criteria and the use of certification to enforce them. A week before the meeting, the Global Forest Coalition of about 130 environmental NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organisations, publicly called on NGOs to withdraw from the process. By participating, it said, "NGOs are legitimising the expansion of large-scale soy monocultures that lead to massive deforestation."

Coalition chairman Miguel Lovera said certification processes "are not able to address the indirect impacts of soy production, such as deforestation caused by cattle ranching and other agricultural activities displaced by soy monoculture". He called on NGOs to instead address the over-consumption of products such as meat and biofuels.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) International issued a similar statement on the eve of the meeting saying the roundtable "completely fails to address the major social and environmental impacts of industrial-scale soy cultivation and frustrates real solutions". It also voiced concern that the current criteria would label genetically modified soy as being "responsible".

Adrian Bebb, a campaigner against genetically modified organisms at FoE Europe, said: "Certifying these crops as green, even if well intentioned, is a smokescreen that will fool the public and let the problems continue. The really green answer is to reduce the demand for these crops."

Luis Laranja, coordinator of WWF-Brazil’s agricultural and environment programme, said that while certification cannot guarantee there are no negative impacts from soya cultivation, the NGO will continue working within the roundtable for the adoption of rigorous production and certification standards.

The developments highlight growing criticism of WWF’s approach. In 2007, many environmental groups said new sustainable palm oil production standards were "weak" because they allow producers to fell tropical forests to create new plantations (ENDS Report 395, p 24 ).

Friends of the Earth also issued a report just before the meeting that criticises the sustainability criteria being developed for sugar by the Better Sugarcane Initiative (ENDS Report 390, p 27 ) and private certification businesses such as CERT ID’s ProTerra scheme (ENDS Report 376, pp 22-23 ).2 Greenpeace, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the two-year moratorium that it agreed with most of Brazil’s soya traders in 2006 (ENDS Report 379, p 26 ) before it ends this summer. The group hopes an extension will give the coalition of traders, environmental NGOs and civil society groups established to implement the ban enough time to develop a system to monitor deforestation.

Once it is possible to identify perpetrators, soya traders will be able to assure their customers that the soya they buy is not linked to rainforest destruction and the moratorium would be lifted.