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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.

We’ve supported the sustainable production of soy through the purchase of RTRS credits or via our direct supplier procurement to a deforestation free production standard for 100% of the soy in our supply chain from South America. From 2020, our focus has shifted to ensure that 100% of our soy is sourced from verified deforestation free regions by 2025. 

To achieve this we work collaboratively throughout the sector via the Cerrado SoS Group, UK Roundtable for Sustainable Soy, the Retail Soy Group; and the Soy Transparency Coalition – a new organisation we helped to create to assess key soy traders’ performance. In 2021, we also joined 39 other companies to write to Brazil’s National Congress encouraging them to reject a legislative proposal that could open up the Amazon for deforestation.

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:

To understand how soy is used within our supply chain and products

Minimum Standards
We support a twin track approach to sourcing deforestation-free soy. This aims to halt illegal deforestation through accelerating the implementation of relevant legal frameworks in soy producing countries (such as the Forest Code within Brazil), while ensuring the parallel development and implementation of measures to exclude all deforestation from soy supply chains.

We require our major soy-using livestock suppliers of monogastric (i.e. pigs and poultry) and farmed fish species to source soy-containing feed to a standard that has been confirmed by the International Trade Centre's (ITC) Standards Map as meeting the requirements of the European Feed Manufacturers Federation (FEFAC) Soy Sourcing Guidelines. In 2019, we narrowed this down to only accept those standards which have a strong approach to deforestation, these are as follows:

We are working with monogastric suppliers and farmed fish suppliers on moving from a credit based system through to a physical supply of deforestation-free soy over the next few years.

To cover the soy used in other proteins such as beef and lamb we purchase RTRS credits. We aim to continue this commitment while working with industry and other stakeholders to establish ways to scale up availability of deforestation-free soy within mainstream markets.
Supply Chain Tracking

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 carry out an annual survey of soy used in animal protein products and use this information to direct policy and work with our supply chain to make improvements.  

In 2020, the total amount of soy used in M&S branded products (directly and indirectly through animal feed) was 77,254 tonnes. 

To support market transformation through working with industry partners and other stakeholders

Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)
The Round Table Responsible Soy (RTRS) is a global, multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to support soy production that is economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sound. It provides civil society and businesses with the opportunity to jointly develop systems that lead to responsibly grown soy.

As a leader in encouraging sustainable soy sourcing, M&S commits to purchasing RTRS credits to cover soy used in beef, lamb and dairy products. M&S is an active member of RTRS and participates in RTRS forums and engages directly with the Board.
Retail Soy Group and UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya
M&S is a member of the Retail Soy Group which is non-competitive coalition of retail companies with a common aim of advancing adoption of sustainable soy.

In 2018, the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya was formed, this is a pre-competitive forum for all UK businesses to work together towards a sustainable soy supply chain. 
Consumer Goods Forum

Marks & Spencer are a member of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) which is the only organisation that brings consumer goods retailers and manufacturers together globally.

Statement of Support for the Cerrado Manifesto

Covering a quarter of Brazil, the Cerrado is one of the world’s most important ecosystems, yet it’s far less well-known than its neighbour to the north, the Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, however, the Cerrado continues to lose ground to expanding beef and soy production, plus other commodities and infrastructure. In fact, losses in the Cerrado have been greater than those in the Amazon for the past decade.

In 2017, a long list of Brazilian civil society organisations released the Cerrado Manifesto that highlighted how critically vulnerable the ecosystem was becoming due to cattle grazing and soy development, and that the Forest Code was not offering enough protection in the region. In many ways Brazil has been a victim of its own success. By protecting the Amazon, it has displaced new soy production to the neighbouring Cerrado.

With help from Unilever, Tesco and Ahold-Delhaize, we reached out to major European, international and Brazilian users of soy and cattle to seek support for the Cerrado Manifesto.  The result was a statement of support for the objectives of the Cerrado Manifesto signed by a number of global brands and a commitment to work with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil’s Cerrado.

Find out more about how the statement of support for Cerrado Manifesto came about.

Alternatives to Soy

Soy has an important role to play in providing nutritious feed for animal protein but over recent years a number of innovative and potentially more sustainable alternatives have come to light, so we are embarking on an active soy diversification programme. We are working with our suppliers to understand the benefits of these alternatives and what might work for our supply chain.

We are members of the Forum for the Future Feed Compass which champions this work.  

To support programmes that further our understanding of sustainable soy production and help protect the region's most vulnerable to encroachment from soy agriculture

Cool Earth: Saving the Rainforest One Village at a Time

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 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.

Promoting Sustainable Soy Agriculture in Paraguay

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 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.” Whilst this project concluded in 2017 the farmers continue to work on the programme

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 UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya, the Consumer Goods Forum, the Statement of Support for the Cerrado Manifesto and Forum for Future