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Are UK supermarkets doing enough to address deforestation?

Tesco urges the UK government to introduce due diligence

by Helen Burley

Following allegations that some of its meat suppliers were linked to deforestation, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, has urged the government to introduce due diligence legislation to ensure all UK food is deforestation-free. 

Our most recent Forest 500 assessment shows this is urgently needed. None of the UK supermarkets or other retailers can guarantee that products containing soy, South American beef or palm oil are deforestation-free, and legislation could help to raise the bar.

Soy is a particular problem. Used in animal feed – and so present in meat, fish and dairy products – it is the second biggest driver of deforestation in Brazil.

Moy Park and Tulip, the JBS-owned companies that supply Tesco with pork and poultry (fed on soy), also supply many of the UK’s other supermarkets, including Aldi, the Co-op, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

UK supermarkets’ deforestation commitments

Tesco and many of the other UK supermarkets have made commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains, but our latest assessment shows that none are doing enough to ensure these commitments are delivered.

Tesco, for example, has made commitments to source deforestation-free beef and soy – and has signed up to the Cerrado Manifesto, an initiative to deforestation-free soy from the Cerrado biome in Brazil. 

It had also committed to deforestation-free soy by 2020, but lack of progress across the soy sector has seen that deadline pushed back to 2025.

Similarly, Sainsbury’s had commitments to achieve zero-deforestation supply chains for beef and soy by 2020, but has extended the deadline for soy to 2025. Soy supply chains are complex, with big traders bulking supplies from different farms, which can make it difficult for retailers to find out where they are sourcing from.  

Aldi UK, the fifth biggest UK supermarket in terms of market share, does have a zero-deforestation commitment for soy, but has been slower in setting a deadline for achieving this. And the parent company, the Aldi Group, did not have a commitment when assessed last year.


Supermarkets and their zero-deforestation commitments*

Table of UK supermarkets and their commitments
*Based on 2019 assessment data

The urgent need for due diligence

In a statement, Tesco group chief executive Dave Lewis said: “we call for our government to mandate food companies, as part of its National Food Strategy, to introduce effective due diligence across supply chains to make sure all food sold in the UK is deforestation-free.” 

The UK government has made a commitment to reduce the UK’s deforestation footprint, and earlier this year received recommendations from the Global Resource Initiative (GRI), which included a call to urgently introduce “a mandatory due diligence obligation on companies that place commodities and derived products that contribute to deforestation on the UK market.”

Such a new law could help raise the bar for UK supermarkets and other retailers – and would also help level the playing field between the companies currently investing in greater transparency, and those companies doing very little at all.

The implications for retailers would depend on how the legislation was designed. Existing European legislation on timber supply chains puts the responsibility for due diligence on the importing company. If this model was followed, the onus would be on soy and animal feed importers who would need to ensure their products were not linked to deforestation. 

This would mean that Tesco, for example, would have to ensure that suppliers such as Moy Park and Tulip were complying with the due diligence requirements. And those suppliers would have the responsibility of ensuring the products they were using were deforestation-free.  

The UK government is expected to consult further on such measures, but the need for action is urgent. In the meantime, UK supermarkets should not delay action – more needs to be done to ensure that soy, beef and palm oil supply chains are deforestation-free.


Listing image: Big Ben, London; James Newcombe on Unsplash

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