Is the EU eating up the world’s forests?

December 10, 2020  

By Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove
Senior Forest Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office

EU soy imports are more often sourced from deforestation frontiers, where fires are often used as tools for land clearance.

IMAGE: David Bebber / WWF-UK

If I ask you to picture deforestation and the devastating consequences for our planet, some haunting images might swim into focus -- an orangutan running across a destroyed landscape. The Amazon rainforest ablaze. Land mercilessly cleared to make space for monoculture across deforestation “frontiers” in the tropics.


But what about something closer to home in Europe? Something in your home.


If you open up your fridge or have a scan of your bathroom, you’ll find a product which could be tainted with deforestation. Your meat, eggs or dairy could have come from animals fed on soy grown on destroyed land. That ice cream lurking in your freezer or shampoo in your shower might contain unsustainable palm oil. Your morning coffee and the chocolate powder you sprinkle on it at weekends might have a bitter aftertaste...


For too long, we as consumers have been left to decipher whether our shopping has contributed to deforestation. The weight of responsibility rests squarely on our shoulders. And it shouldn’t be this way.



The Cerrado, Brazil. 50% of it has now been lost, largely due to the unsustainable production of soy and livestock.

IMAGE: David Bebber / WWF-UK

The EU’s demand for products like beef, soy for animal feed, leather, rubber and palm oil, is pushing nature to the brink. It may not have started the fires often employed to clear forests and other ecosystems, like grasslands, but it’s throwing a hefty dose of lighter fluid into the mix. This is evident across the globe, perhaps none more so than in Brazil -- the world’s top producer of soy. Together with China, the EU accounts for more than half of all soybeans exported by Brazil, and EU imports are more likely to be tainted with deforestation. Per thousand tonnes of Brazilian soy imported, the EU’s impact is double that of China. They are more often sourced from deforestation frontiers, like the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado1,  a vast, tropical wooded grassland covering more than 20% of Brazil. A recent study offering a detailed inventory of farms in the EU’s supply chain estimated that one-fifth of EU soy imports from Brazil may have come from illegally deforested land.2


A powerful example of this destruction in action is the Brazilian Cerrado, 50% of which has been lost now, largely due to the unsustainable production of soy and livestock. What makes grasslands like the Cerrado so special is that they can survive and keep regrowing no matter how much they’re trampled or nibbled on by wildlife. For this reason, they’re incredibly rich in biodiversity. The Cerrado is one of the most biodiverse grasslands on the planet, housing a third of Brazil’s flora and fauna -- from jaguars to macaws, armadillos to giant anteaters. The Cerrado is also home to the sources of eight of Brazil’s twelve river basins, making it a critical resource for nature and people, many of whom depend on the grassland to survive and maintain their livelihoods. The Cerrado is also crucial for our climate, storing around 13.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. It is often referred to as an “inverted forest”, because it contains underground stores of carbon similar to or greater than those found in more productive forest systems.


The continued destruction of the Cerrado has resulted in serious threats to the survival of at least 137 species of fauna, including the Maned Wolf, Jaguar, Giant Anteater and Giant Armadillo, which are threatened with extinction. People’s livelihoods are also being eradicated, and the effects of climate change exacerbated. It is estimated that destruction of the Cerrado is responsible for around 20% of Brazil’s emissions associated with changes in land use.



The Cerrado is one of the oldest and most biodiverse savannahs on the planet.

IMAGE: David Bebber / WWF-UK

The EU has the power to help stop this destruction. It can do this by passing a new law that would exclude commodities and products linked to the destruction of nature from the EU market.








With Parliament and more than one million people now calling for a strong, new law to not only stop EU-driven deforestation, but also its destruction of the world’s grasslands, wetlands and other nature across the world, there can be no turning back: It’s time for the EU to stop being part of the problem, and become part of the solution.








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