Soy is a globally traded commodity produced in both temperate and tropical regions and serves as a key source of protein and vegetable oils. It is an incredibly useful and versatile ingredient and in its simplest form is sold as dried beans, and soy milk and yoghurt are popular dairy alternatives. Look closer at ingredient lists and you’ll find soy flour, soy oil and soy sauce and soy lecithin in chocolate.
The main use of soy though is in animal feed. It is one of the highest quality vegetable proteins available in volume and brings unique nutritional benefit, in particular helping maintain healthy growth so that products like pork and chicken can be an everyday part of our diet.
The use of soy is not without its challenges and despite industry efforts and some notable success stories, soy continues to contribute to deforestation in South America, albeit at a dramatically lower rate than before. We have made major investments in a broad range of programmes to address the multiple causes of deforestation and support the development of more sustainable soy.
Commitments and targets
Our goal is to ensure that all soy used in our products is sourced from locations that don’t contribute to deforestation.
While we’ve made good progress towards our goal we know lots more still needs to be done. Since launching this commitment in 2008 we have a better understanding of our soy supply chain. To reflect this understanding and our ongoing commitment to preventing deforestation we aim to ensure zero deforestation from the use of soy in the production of M&S products by 2020.
Our supply chain is complex. We don’t own farms or factories and don’t purchase ingredients directly. Most of the ingredients that go into our products are sourced in a global market. That said, in comparison to many others in our industry we are also a relatively low user of globally traded soy.
We provide a mix of market insights, technical expertise and funding to achieve the widespread transformation that needs to happen to help us achieve our goal.
Our approach to sourcing more sustainable soy is as follows:
Most of the soy in our supply chain is embedded in animal feed and working out how much soy is actually used is a complicated task. We’ve carried out initial measurements of M&S soy volumes in food and in feed and now plan to engage with direct and indirect suppliers to gain more insights into their usage of soy.
The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) has made a commitment to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. M&S co-chairs the CGF Sustainability Steering Board and is an active member of the CGF Soy Working Group. Earlier this year the CGF Soy Working Group organised a field trip for members that included Brazilian soy farm visits and a high level workshop in Brasilia. The workshop brought together a broad range of companies, NGOs and academics to identify how best to work together to stop deforestation associated with soy.
The Amazon Soy Moratorium is a coalition of growers, government, NGOs, soy traders and European buyers. It is commonly cited as the most successful example of market based measures to stop deforestation. But this agreement expires in 2016 and producers have declined to commit to an extension beyond this date.
M&S is at the heart of the Customer Group demanding that if the Brazilian Moratorium comes to an end, mechanisms must be put in place to guarantee the continuing protection of the Amazon. The European Customer Group are working with organisations like Greenpeace and WWF to develop solutions so this guarantee can be maintained.
There are other regions that remain vulnerable and that lack the protection given to the Brazilian Amazon. In Peru, illegal logging remains commonplace and the land cleared can be made profitable by planting soy.
M&S has partnered with Cool Earth, a charity established to protect tropical forests across South America, Africa and South East Asia, which raises funds to buy up land that is critically endangered. This creates buffer zones that stop road development and prevent local people from being coerced into giving up their land.
We have provided significant funding for Cool Earth to develop a unique three year partnership with fifteen indigenous villages from the Ashaninka tribe in the Ene Valley of Peru. They work with the villagers before they have to sell their forests, to help them earn more from keeping the forest standing that they would otherwise earn from clearing it. They also address critical social issues and have a goal this year to equip each of their partner villages with a Medical Outpost and trained team of first-aiders and midwives.
Beyond the Amazon, other regions see the value of soy and seek the economic development opportunities it can bring. Paraguay is the world’s fourth biggest soy producer and soy contributes 12% to its GDP, a huge percentage for a single crop. In the South East of the country soy is the primary agricultural crop, but much of the farming is still subsistence level with rudimentary agricultural practices.
Prior to 2004, Paraguay had the fastest deforestation rate in the world, and while a zero deforestation law introduced in that year has been successful, only fragments of native forest remain. A huge difference is being made through forest restoration alongside the development of well-managed plantations to help prevent further deforestation.
M&S has partnered with Solidaridad, a sustainable agriculture non-profit organisation, to promote environmental compliance and forestry development alongside best farming practice. The project investment of 300,000 Euro over 3 years allows the project to reach 2600 farmers covering a total area of 145,000 hectare. A ‘start small, prove success, and promote the benefits’ approach has meant that voluntary participation is growing and those involved are highly motivated to learn and succeed. Simona Cavazzutti, president of UNICOOP (the umbrella organisation of family farm cooperatives involved in the project) said “There is a role for Paraguay in feeding the world through our export, but we want to do that in a responsible way. This project is basically about cultural change. We are sure it can open the road.”
Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.
We are working with a number of industry and civil society organisations to tackle the causes of deforestation and promote the benefits of more sustainable soy. Outlined in more detail above, these include the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), the Retail Soy Group, the Consumer Goods Forum and the Amazon Soy Moratorium. We are also working in partnership with Cool Earth, Solidaridad and UNICOOP to support indigenous communities and promote sustainable soy agriculture.