Dutch at forefront of tropical forest destruction, WWF claims

Photo: Depositphotos.com
Photo: Depositphotos.com

The use of soy in feed for the Dutch livestock industry make the Netherlands the number one European contributor to the destruction of tropical forest, a new report by conservation group WWF says.

The organisation said that some 18 square metres of tropical rainforest per head of the Dutch population disappeared between 2007 and 2015, the period covered by the report, compared to an average of five square metres in other European countries.

Soy cultivation alone destroys some five million hectares of tropical forest every year, the WWF said.  Over 80% of the crop is shipped to Europe, destined for the meat industry.

The Dutch are important meat exporters, which explains their large ecological footprint in the deforestation of the rainforest, commodities expert Sandra Mulder said.

Feed producer Nevedi said the finding exaggerates the Dutch role because much of the soy is exported to other European countries via Dutch ports. ‘The amount of soy destined for the Dutch meat industry is almost two million tonnes, which makes it around 0.005 percent of world production,’ director Henk Flipsen told broadcaster NOS.

Flipsen said that deforestation and loss of biodiversity must be limited and that the sector has been working, with the WWF, on an internationally recognised certification system for soy meal. ‘That means that the soy producing countries have to comply with strict conditions, such as good working conditions and good agricultural practices, without deforestation,’ he said.

A ban on soy imports is not an option, Flipsen said, because it would stop any European controls on sustainability and prejudice those who have already invested in making production less harmful. The sector is looking for alternative sources of protein in Europe, he said.

EU measures

The EU as a whole is responsible for 16% of deforestation resulting from the import of commodities like soy and palm oil, almost double that of India and the United States. It is followed by China (24%).

Earlier measures reduced the European footprint by 40% between 2005 and 2017 but stricter new legislation is urgently needed to bring it down further, the WWF said.

The organisation is calling for products to be sustainable, not merely ‘legal’ according to the rules in the country of origin, and to ban products which can be linked to the degradation of natural eco systems and forests, and the violation of human rights. A stringent monitoring system should be set up to make sure companies keep to the rules.

The European Commission is expected to present a draft proposal on the subject by the summer.

It is not clear whether this will also have an impact on the depletion of Baltic forests as a result of the production of biomass for the Dutch energy market.

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