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Deforestation, in your shopping cart

In this same space of Alterconsumismo, the State Fair Trade Coordinator titled, three years ago: Climate change, in your cup of coffee.

Today is not just our cup of coffee. At first glance it is impossible to see it —and to know it, because the agri-food industry is already in charge of being not very transparent when it comes to labeling its products—, but our daily consumption implies climate change.

Why? Because we consume at the expense of the deforestation of the forests of half the planet, and that is what we are here today to talk about. And when we ‘consume’ we don’t just talk about food. The extinction of forests, as Juan Fueyo says, attracts viruses (and pandemics), which is why we also talk about our health, and a natural environment that heals, not kills.

Deforestation on our plates

Let’s start the list with the products associated with the extinction of forests that end up on our plates: coffee, about which we already know something about why it implies climate change, cocoa, beef. And palm oil, present in an endless number of processed products such as cookies, pastries, breakfast cereals, snacks, margarine, toast, chocolates, ice creams, pizzas, broths and all kinds of pre-cooked food.

Without forgetting soybeans, which we consume indirectly in meat, because its cultivation is used to make feed for livestock and agrofuels. A fact: Spain is the eighth soybean importing country in the world. 71% of our imports of this product come from the tropics, areas where the risk of deforestation is high. Despite this, we are the leading feed producer in Europe and the fifth in the world. The reason for this disturbing ranking: the use for animal feed.

Image courtesy of Ecologistas en AccionVictor Moriyama (Victor Moriyama for Rainforest F)

The thing does not stop here. Three quarters of the same thing happens with corn. As the Carro de Combate collective says, “today it has become one of those sacred raw materials for the industry, both food and energy.” It is the most produced cereal in the world, but not exactly for human consumption, although we find it in the form of tortillas and arepas, flour, oil, canned or in snacks. So what is the fate of corn? It is grown mainly for animal feed, especially pigs. Also for agrofuels, such as soybeans. There is only one difference, but a very important one: corn is not included as a raw material associated with deforestation in the European legislative proposal.

In addition to food, a multitude of everyday products are also associated with the extinction of forests: from the tables and chairs where we sit to eat or work, to the paper on which we write. Or the tires of our cars.

Today, not only is climate change evidence, but the consequences of political inaction are also evident. The argument of the individual responsibility of each one of us is no longer valid: we do everything possible —resignations included— so that our daily consumption is healthy, sustainable and adjusted to our economy.

Today, not only is climate change evidence, but the consequences of political inaction are also evident

A law that can change everything

But it’s not all bad news —despite COP27, which has finally ended disappointing expectations. Namely: the European Parliament has just approved a law that for the first time puts limits on the importation of products that involve deforestation.

This can start to change everything definitively, we don’t know if it’s late and bad, but it will change it. And just in case we are on time, let’s see what it is about. The European Commission published, around the same time a year ago, its proposal for a Regulation to combat deforestation. It refers to six products that cause extinction or degradation of forests: coffee, cocoa, beef, palm oil, soybeans and wood, as well as derivative products such as leather, chocolate and furniture. Let’s take another piece of information into account: without this law, by 2030 the EU’s consumption and production of these six products would increase to 248,000 hectares deforested annually.

rubber and corn

But the position of the more conservative EU Council of Environment Ministers leaves processed meat and others such as poultry and pork off the list, as well as key products such as rubber or corn. And this is where we find the differences. Soy is included, but corn is not. Wood yes, but rubber no. “Despite the devastating impacts they have on forests and people in Southeast Asia and Africa,” denounces Ecologistas en Accion.

Image courtesy of Ecologistas en Accion
Image courtesy of Ecologistas en Accion

Let’s talk about rubber. Do we know that it comes from the latex that is extracted from trees to make tires? There are ways to sustainably source it, removing it from the trunk without major cuts so the tree stays alive. And, of course, ensuring that working conditions are decent for the people who work in this arduous task of extraction carefully so as not to irreversibly damage the tree.

But the industry behind the rubber is obviously extractive and Europe also imports this raw material from the tropical forests of Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia or Malaysia. This is confirmed by Ecologists in Action, which together with the Spanish Confederation of Consumers and Users (CECU), Friends of the Earth, SEO/BirdLife, WWF, Mighty Earth and Greenpeace demand “greater ambition” so that these products are progressively included in the law , which do appear in the initial proposal of the European Parliament.

What can change everything? Our action and that of our governments. A large social majority already supports a European legislation free of deforestation. Will European politics measure up? For now, it is on the right track to stop the extinction of global forests by law, but the climate emergency does not call for firm steps against deforestation that is advancing by leaps and bounds.

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