Beef, palm oil, cocoa, and other products associated with deforestation will be prohibited from entering the European Union under landmark legal proposals aimed at halting the global forest loss.
Two weeks after world leaders signed a plan to halt deforestation at Cop26, the EU executive outlined a draught law on Wednesday requiring companies to demonstrate that agricultural commodities destined for the bloc’s 450 million consumers were not derived from deforestation.
The proposals cover beef, wood, palm oil, soy, coffee, and cocoa, but not rubber, an omission that has been criticised by environmentalists.
Nonetheless, green groups have welcomed the plans, as they represent the EU’s first attempt to regulate products associated with all forms of deforestation, not just illegal ones. Environmentalists argue that this is a critical step, as some large forested countries, such as Brazil, have reduced legal protections.
“What we propose is a ground-breaking initiative,” EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkeviius stated. “EU action on its own will not resolve the issue. We also need major markets like the United States and China to clean up their supply chains, and producers to step up forest protection, but we are prepared to assist.”
Nico Muzi, Europe director of the campaign group Mighty Earth, described the law as a “significant step forwards” in the fight to protect the world’s endangered forests. “The EU is sending a clear message to the world’s largest supermarkets and retailers: one of the world’s largest economies will simply not accept agricultural products associated with deforestation,” he said.
However, he said, the EU’s proposals “pointlessly excluded” fragile ecosystems such as Brazil’s Cerrado savannah and south-east Asia’s peatlands, which are both rich in carbon, plant and animal life. Additionally, the group has criticised the exclusion of rubber, which it claims has resulted in the loss of 5 million hectares of forest in recent years.
Sinkeviius stated that additional commodities could be added if there was evidence of a problem, as the draught law would allow the EU to “response quickly” to changing deforestation patterns.
He also defended the commission’s number crunching, following criticism from scientists whose work was cited by EU officials about Brussels’ use of their data. “I believe we got it right,” Sinkeviius said, adding that the regulation targeted commodities whose consumption in Europe contributes the most to deforestation.
The former Lithuanian economy minister also emphasised the draught law’s inclusion of derived products such as leather, chocolate, and furniture. Companies will be required to conduct due diligence to ensure they are not selling products that contribute to deforestation or forest degradation, which will require satellite monitoring and geolocation tracking of land in countries of origin.
According to a commision estimate, between 1990 and 2008, EU consumption accounted for 10% of global deforestation. Before becoming law, the proposals are likely to be amended during negotiations between member states and the European Parliament.
Separately, the commision announced its intention to resurrect a legislative effort to protect European soils. Around 70% of European soils are deemed unhealthy as a result of farming, pollution, and urban sprawl, while 1 billion tonnes of soil are washed away each year as a result of erosion, an amount equal to the depth of one metre of soil across Berlin.
The commision, which regulates air and water quality, stated that the legal proposals would be published in 2023 with the goal of achieving good soil health throughout the EU by 2050.