US agribusiness giant Cargill has expressed concern over the Round Table for Responsible Soy, a scheme to encourage more sustainable production of the commodity.
Mark Murphy, assistant vice president for corporate affairs at Cargill, suggested the RTRS initiative in its current form was not viable and did not work for soybean producers.
“If you talk to a lot of people in the business today, this certification system is not viable the why it is established. There are too many hurdles still for producers to make it a viable certification standard,” Murphy told just-food at this year’s RTRS conference, which took place in London this week. “Can a roadmap be created for some system in the future? That has yet to be determined.”
The RTRS was set up in 2006 to define and certify a more sustainable form of soy production. Cargill is among the members of the scheme, which also has signatories including Unilever, Carrefour and campaign groups like the WWF.
The first purchases of RTRS-certified soy were made last year but a number of questions surround the initiative, not least on how successful it has been in getting farmers to sign up to the initiative.
Murphy said the RTRS needed to do more to encourage producers to embrace the certification. The US is one of the major soybean-producing nations but, Murphy noted, the American Soybean Association had not as yet signed up to the scheme.
“To be successful, RTRS has to bring all producers back to the table. It’s a major hurdle. We’ve been involved in a lot of round tables. Where you have had the producer at the table, engaged in the conversation, you’ve been able to move forward,” he said in a speech at the conference. “In RTRS … the principles are sound but the approach has not been practical and has not been accepted by the producer groups. It’s vitally important.”
The Cargill executive said there were signs some farmers were improving their practices. However, Murphy said more education was needed and insisted that, for some farmers, signing up to the scheme was too expensive.
“We need to inform people about these guidelines and principles we are trying to implement. There’s confusion in the marketplace,” he said. “The cost, too. For a small farmer, some of these certification requirements simply are not accessible. For medium-sized farmers, they don’t seem practical. For a large farmer to implement and be fully certified, it is just very expensive. One farmer in Brazil we met with a year ago said it cost him $700,000 … to meet certification criteria. Most medium-sized farmers don’t have that kind of capital.”