Fast food supply chains, soy and deforestation

From ToxicLeaks

The problem with soybeans[edit | edit source]

Soybean production has exploded in response to soaring demand across the globe, with farming and processing now at levels more than 15 times that of the 1950s. The United States, Brazil and Argentina together produce 80 percent of the world’s globally traded soy, a key source of protein although much of the human consumption of soy is indirect because it is used in animal feed. Meat and dairy products, derived from those animal sources, reflect soy inputs, as does about 27 percent of our vegetable oils.

The rapid growth in soybean agribusiness has led to widespread deforestation, severely damaging the environment and quality of life for indigenous communities. The Ayoreos in Bolivia, for example, were a traditional hunter-gatherer community but soy farms have surrounded them for the past 20 years. It’s one of 28 case studies in Bolivia and Brazil detailed in a September 2016 report by Mighty Field. The nonprofit’s work looks at a range of deforestation impacts on land use, water resources, environment-related conflict, and climate-related changes in forest carbon sequestration, directly caused by soybean production. That production is particularly damaging in fragile ecosystems that include the central Brazilian Cerrado, the Amazon, the Gran Chaco of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and Atlantic Forests.

The soaring demand for meat is created in part by restaurant chains, including McDonald’s and Burger King. These companies and their supply chains are under increasing scrutiny because of climate change priorities, and the need for sustainable business practices that reduce the damage of deforestation – yet they are falling far short of their pledges to reduce the environmental harm of soybean-related sourcing.

Burger King[edit | edit source]

Glenn Hurowitz, the CEO of Mighty Earth, insists that Burger King is among the worst offenders, while McDonald’s, KFC and Subway are doing more to protect earth’s forests. The company ranks dead last on environmental protection policies, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The union’s 2016 scorecard of 13 companies that do business in the United States, but source their beef in South America, warns that tropical deforestation accounts for 10 percent of all global warming emissions.

Soy production – 75 percent of which is animal feed – is the second largest driver of deforestation on the continent, behind beef production itself. Burger King, owned by Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, lacks a public commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and will not rule deforestation-free sources.

McDonald’s[edit | edit source]

While McDonald’s has demonstrated some success in developing deforestation-free policies and public transparency about them, the UCS says the fast food giant still has a long way to go. One problem is that McDonald’s limits its sourcing commitments to the Brazilian Amazon, while deforestation damage in other regions continues. There is also insufficient transparency in their reporting, especially where soy and other deforestation-dependent products from indirect sources are “hidden” in the supply chains.

The company announced in March 2017 that it will eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by 2020, insisting that the goal is consistent with its prior 1989 Amazon declaration and related pledges. It also supports the expansion of a 10-year Amazon soy moratorium initiated by a Greenpeace report. Yet the $25 billion company needs to be more vigilant about its supply chain and its reporting transparency.

Supply chains and sourcing[edit | edit source]

Burger King sells 11 million meat-based sandwiches every day, but the Mighty Earth report questions where it comes from and how deforestation related to soybean monoculture impacts biodiversity, and both human and wildlife habitats. An investigation assisted by satellite mapping and drones, as well as field research and soy farming interviews in the at-risk regions of South America, identified American agribusiness companies behind the beef. They include Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill.

Behind the scenes, these giant firms are buying soybeans, building silos and roads, providing farmers with fertilizer – and even financing to clear land. ADM controls 13 percent of Bolivia’s soy exports, yet to their credit, the company has begun fully mapping its supply chains. Bunge and Cargill are more closely linked to deforestation. The former is most active in the Cerrado, and the leading cause of deforestation in the past five years, despite a publicly stated policy aimed at prohibiting its harm in its supply chains.

Cargill, the largest privately held U.S. company worth $120 billion, has given itself until 2030 to erase deforestation from supply chains. In the meantime, as with Bunge and other firms, it refuses to adapt sustainable practices required by the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon to other South American regions.

Future solutions and sustainability[edit | edit source]

Beef is the leading driver of deforestation and a major source of global warming emissions, and soy production is a key contributor. The WWF urges consumers to limit consumption – and therefore demand – of animal food products, but consumers also are positioned to demand zero-deforestation products for their consumption and avoid doing business with companies lacking sustainable practices.

On a larger scale, investment programs like Green Century Funds offer a solution. In March 2017, the firm announced it had organized 38 investors, representing $617.5 million in assets, to launch the Latin American Forest Protection initiative to demand zero-deforestation practices. The investors have sent a letter to nearly two dozen firms – Bunge, Cargill and McDonald’s among them – seeking a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, improved supply chain transparency traceability and a path toward more sustainable development.