EU deforestation law will affect UK supply chains

Sign off is expected on a new European Union law aiming to ensure that products sold in the EU are deforestation-free.

UK food and farming businesses will be affected if they supply major food brands operating in both the UK and the EU because brands are likely to adopt EU regulations across both markets.

The law aims to ensure that key goods, such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, maize and timber coming into the EU no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. The law also covers derived products such as beef and chocolate.

Senior sources from the food industry have indicated that the new law will help to create a level playing field inside the EU, meaning that supply chains will be able to pivot towards sourcing more sustainable and agroecological ingredients without having to move first, risking exposure and the burden of reduced competitiveness based on price.

The new law is a response to the critical role that forests play in preserving the Earth’s biodiversity and absorbing CO2. Environmental law charity, Client Earth, reports that an area of forest the size of a football pitch is lost every two seconds, and that in 2021 alone, the world lost an area of forest greater than the United Kingdom.

The drivers of deforestation are complex, but include multinational interests, organised crime, and relative poverty among farmers and landowners at local level. The vast majority of cleared land is used to produce just a handful of products, which are often sold sequentially before the land becomes substantially degraded. For example in areas of Brazil, immediate timber sales make way for short term cattle production, which in turn makes way for soy.

The new EU law seeks to enforce transparency in supply chains that have been linked to deforestation. The European Commission says that the regulation will “set strong mandatory due diligence rules for companies that want to place relevant products on the EU market or export them. Operators and traders will have to prove that the products are both deforestation-free (produced on land that was not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020) and legal (compliant with all relevant applicable laws in force in the country of production).”

This new regulation for deforestation-free products is part of the EU’s Green Deal plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It replaces an existing law aiming to prevent the sale of illegally-harvested timber products. The European Parliament is expected to give its approval on 19 April, after which it will be signed off by EU ministers at the European Council. The law will become effective shortly afterwards.

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