Environmental Protection

Soy Producers Will Pilot Conservation Standards

Participants in the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) recently agreed to implement a pilot program of voluntary production standards aimed at reducing the negative impacts of soy production on the environment and people, particularly in South America.

The interim standards require producers to take certain measures to protect the environment. Those include prohibitions on the conversion of areas with high conservation value—such as forests and savannahs—reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the most hazardous pesticides in soy farming.

"The challenge now is to find mechanisms to reward producers who protect forests and soil by allowing them to sell carbon along with their soy," says Jason Clay, Ph.D., an expert on soy agriculture who leads World Wildlife Fund's (WWF’s) work with international markets. "This is a win-win-win situation. Forests and soil are protected, producers have an additional source of income, and retailers and brands can now buy responsible soy as a way to reduce their carbon footprint. Preliminary calculations suggest that producers in forest areas can net more income selling carbon than soy. This fundamentally changes soy and makes it a new kind of commodity."

"We welcome this decision by RTRS members, but now the hard work begins to test and improve these standards over the next 12 months," says Cassio Moreira, coordinator of WWF Brazil's Agriculture and Environment Program, who also serves on the RTRS board. "Everybody in the soy supply chain needs to jump into this process and make it work, especially the buyers who must show their commitment to support the implementation of these standards."

The RTRS currently counts more than 100 members, including major private interests in the soy industry, smallholder farmers, feed mill operators, traders, retailers, financial institutions, and social and environmental organizations.

The RTRS now needs to maintain momentum by developing a certification system to verify compliance with the standards and establish methods to trace the soy. Expanding soy production has been linked to the dramatic loss of natural habitats, especially forests and savannahs, in South America. Soy fields have already replaced much of Brazil's savannahs—the Cerrado—and are threatening the Amazon by pushing cattle ranching into that area. The expansion of soy production also threatens the livelihoods of local communities.

Soybeans are used in the production of edible oil, cosmetics, foods, and feed for cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish. More recently, soy has been used in the production of biofuels to meet increasing energy needs.

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