I will get to what I think needs to be done. Sanctions could play a part, but change in consumption habits could play a much bigger part, and that is something we each have some control over.
In their recent “Risky Business” report, WWF and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds estimate that more than 40% of the UK’s overseas land footprint—nearly 6 million hectares—is in countries that are at high or very high risk of deforestation and of having weak governance and poor labour standards. The more I read about it, the more I see the links between this trade and modern slavery and human rights abuses, with people being displaced from their land, and so on; they are all part and parcel of the same thing.
WWF and the RSPB looked at seven key agricultural commodities imported into the UK: beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy, and timber. Of those, beef and leather account for by far the largest proportion of our land footprint overseas, despite the fact that we produce almost 80% of our own beef in the UK and import a lot from Ireland. However, the actual picture is much worse, because we must look at animal feed, too. In the EU, around 90% of soy imports are for livestock feed, so it is not just a case of beef from Argentina or Brazil being bad and British beef being fine, as I often hear people try to argue. Yes, there is a case for pasture-fed livestock—I chair the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology for sustainable food and farming, of which the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association is an active member—but that is not what we are talking about.
Every year, the UK consumes around 3.3 million tonnes of soy, more than 75% of which is related to meat consumption, either as imported animal feed or as soy embedded in imported meat products. We must also consider the feed for chickens that lay eggs, and the feed for dairy herds, as well as soya bean oil, which is the second most widely used vegetable oil after palm oil. This has happened to me many times, but I remember the former farming Minister, Jim Paice, trying to tell me that that was all down to more people eating veggie burgers. I assure people that is not the case. That figure may have gone up in recent years, but I think it is still well below 5%—but yes, it is all the vegetarians’ and vegans’ fault, as usual.
It is interesting to compare what has happened with soy bean oil and palm oil. We import nearly three times as much soy bean oil as palm oil, yet it is palm oil that has tended to receive the attention of environmentalists, probably because of the orangutans. Some 21% of global palm oil production is now certified, whereas soy certified by the Round Table on Responsible Soy or ProTerra accounts for only about 2% of global production.