30% Of European Leather Comes From Cattle Grazed On Illegally Deforested Land

The European Union is a global leader in combatting climate change, but those fine Italian leather jackets often come from cows raised on land that had been rainforest just a few years ago. Indeed, new research shows that European consumers driving illegal deforestation around the world.

17 March 2015 | Quick! What do Italian jackets, British beef, and French chickens have in common?

Answer: they’re overwhelmingly dependent on imports of illegally-harvested products driving deforestation across the developing world, according to a new report called Stolen Goods: the EU’s Complicity in Illegal Tropical Deforestation, released today by the environmental NGO Fern.

The group found that leather from cattle raised on illegally-deforested land tends to end up in Italy, while the beef ends up in the United Kingdom. It identified France as the highest importer of soy from illegally-harvested land, with most of that being used to feed chickens and pigs bred for meat. The Netherlands and Germany are the largest importers of tainted palm oil, which goes into cosmetics and food products lining grocery stores shelves.

The findings dovetail with those of Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends, which found that agriculture is driving deforestation around the world, and almost half of global deforestation takes place illegally.

The report highlights the global forces driving deforestation and – ultimately – climate change, and it comes as governments and companies around the world pledge to slow or eliminate practices that drive deforestation. Next week, Ecosystem Marketplace, together with WWF and CDP, will launch a new site called Supply-Change.org to help people track corporate actions to reduce deforestation.

Gateway Netherlands

Globally, Fern says, the European Union imports 25% of all soy harvested on illegally-deforested land, as well as 18% of all palm oil harvested on illegally-deforested land, 15% of all such beef and 31% of all such leather.

The Netherlands is the point of entry for one-third of all the tainted products entering the EU, but much of that flows on to other countries. Still, combined, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France and the UK imported 75% and consumed 63% of the tainted products imported into the EU.

Indonesia and Brazil: Leaders in Illegality

The study says that more than half of the tainted products originate in Brazil, where it is estimated that some 90% of deforestation is illegal, while a quarter come from Indonesia, where some 80% of deforestation is thought to be illegal. Malaysia and Paraguay are among a number of other important sources.

“EU consumption does more than devastate the environment and contribute to climate change,” said Sam Lawson, author of the report. “The illegal nature of the deforestation means it is also driving corruption, and leading to lost revenues, violence and human rights abuses. Those seeking to halt the illegal deforestation have been threatened, attacked or even killed.”

What Constitutes “Illegal”?

Illegality is defined according to producer country laws.

Examples of illegal practices include converting forests to land for commercial agriculture without the right to clear the land, or using permits that were illegally issued or obtained to convert land. In some cases, even when companies have the right to convert land, they have been found to clear more forest than permitted, or fail to make agreed‐to payments for the land to local communities or the government.

What to Do?

The report recommends that the EU ramp up its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade program (EU-FLEGT), which is designed to combat illegal deforestation.

“Demand for forest‐risk commodities is being driven by a number of different EU policies, such as agriculture, trade and energy policy,” says FERN co-founder Saskia Ozinga. “We urgently need an Action Plan to make these different policies coherent, reduce EU consumption and ensure we only import legal and sustainably produced commodities.”

Steve Zwick

I edit Ecosystem Marketplace, which is a news service focused on environmental finance. With this blog, I hope to offer coverage that is a bit lighter and more holistic than what we offer on EM.

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