With pressure on the food industry to alleviate its impact on the environment, sustainable sourcing is key. This week, executives met in London to discuss the progress on the Round Table on Responsible Soy, set up in 2006 to encourage the sustainable use of the commodity. It is early days for the scheme and stakeholders at the event outlined the progress made but the challenges that lay ahead.
“The RTRS aims for the mainstream. We aim for the transformation of the current soy business to a more sustainable soy business” – Round Table for Responsible Soy president and Nutreco chief procurement officer Jaap Oskam.
“As people’s income rises, they eat more protein and that protein needs to be fed” – Cargill assistant vice president for corporate affairs Mark Murphy.
“Since the RTRS was set up, global demand for soybean meal has increased by almost 50%. Soybean production is clearly the engine of global agricultural growth, outpacing any other crops by far” – Patrick Vanden Avenne, president of FEFAC, the European Feed Manufacturers Federation.
“There have been some great reduction deforestation in Brazil but, for WWF, the main issues of soy production and expansion remain deforestation and agro-chemical contamination. We need to produce soy in the most responsible way as possible” –Cassio Franco, co-ordinator of the agriculture and environment programme at WWF Brazil.
“We are all concerned about the negative aspects further land conversion, which can endanger unique and essential landscapes on Earth. We are taking this seriously” – Oskam.
“RTRS is a worldwide standard for responsible soy derived from multi-stakeholder dialogue, which is very important. Everyone can have standards but RTRS is specific and for us it is really a benefit to work with” – Henk Flipsen, director of Dutch feed industry association Nevedi and chairman of the Foundation Chain Transition Responsible Soy.
“Sweden is still less than 0.5% of Brazilian soy production. An isolated Swedish approach has very limited effect but if we commit and work through leading international initiatives, we can really make a difference and show an example that may contribute to the development in a larger context” – Claes Johansson, head of sustainability at Swedish agribusiness Lantmannen.
“RTRS is about the potential to influence the mainstream market, which must happen if this to be a success. Without a clear signal from the market this is wanted, there is dis-incentive from the growers and without mainstream production, the costs are likely to be unacceptably high, which will limit adoption by the market. And so it goes round and round and round” – Quentin Clark, head of sustainability and ethical sourcing at Waitrose.
“There is a lack of supply of RTRS soy. Another risk is that chain parties do not recognise RTRS as the standard. Some suppliers say: ‘Well, I have a standard, why shouldn’t we have mutual recognition?’ It’s something we hear in the market, in the demand side, too” – Flipsen.
“The content of the standard is important but there is too much discussion which standard is really the best one. The process itself and potential to change. We can see around 200 people here from all over the world discussing the issue” – Johansson.
“Scale is the key. We’ve bought an initial tranche of certificates but the future lies in much more scale to ensure this becomes a mainstream standard, with the associated benefits of a stable price and a lower premium” – Clark.
“RTRS improved good business practices, community relations and legal compliances. There are aspects of the system that have to be improved. However, RTRS is expensive to implement, is little known among players in the industry and there is very little market. RTRS is seen as an expense without a proper and clear return” – Jose Eduardo Jorge Born, president of Argentinian agribusiness Caldanes.
“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” – Murphy.
“For us, $6 a tonne premium is going to be okay but it depends on the amount of soya you produce per year. We are a big farmer in Argentina. For the average agricultural producer this system is not viable” – Born.
“If you look at the whole of South America, less than 4% of soy is cultivated in the Amazon region. We had the Soy Amazon Moratorium, which protects the Amazon but it does not protect the other biomes. We need other tools” – Franco.
“We have to focus on how to increase productivity in China and India. By 2020, China will import almost 60% more soy” – Franco.
“We are not worried about concerns. Concerns are a way of supporting the initiative” – RTRS exec director Agustin Mascotena.