A new report has found that an overseas area of land almost half the size of Wales is required every year to grow just nine of Wales’ main imports – and that’s causing deforestation, habitat conversion, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
Those are the findings of a new report which has been compiled by three charities – WWF Cymru, RSPB Cymru and Size of Wales.
The Wales & Global Responsibility Report looks at just a handful of commodities which are imported into Wales every year: cocoa, palm oil, beef, leather, natural rubber and soy – as well as timber, pulp and paper.
Crucially, the key overall finding was that an overseas area of land almost half the size of Wales was required (in an average year between 2011- 2018) to grow the nine Welsh imports included in this report. These imports are causing deforestation, habitat conversion, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – and risking exploitative labour practices in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
- 30% of the land used to grow the Welsh imports included in this report is based in countries categorised as high or very high risk for social and deforestation issues. This means supply chains in these countries risk deforestation, loss of natural ecosystems and/or social issues (such as child or forced labour).
- In high and very high-risk countries from which Wales is importing commodities, there are 2,800 species threatened with extinction. This includes Orangutan populations in Sumatra, and wild cat populations in South America, such as the Northern Tiger.
- Wales’ largest land footprint is in the USA (71,000 hectares), where significant imports of soy, timber, pulp and paper originate. It also has a significant land footprint in Brazil (54,000 hectares), mainly from soy and beef imports. In fact, a tribal chief has warned Welsh soya imports from Brazil could be responsible for “not only deforestation but indigenous blood.” (read more via BBC News).
The Impact of The Way We Eat in Wales
The team from WWF Cymru gave me a heads up on the contents of the Wales & Global Responsibility Report a couple of months ago – so I’ve had a bit of time to dive into the details. I wanted to take a closer look at what the report tells us about the way we eat in Wales, and how this is impacting on the rest of the world:
- Palm: This is the commodity most likely to come from high or very high-risk countries for deforestation and/or social issues (85%) including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. Palm is mostly imported into Wales in the form of palm kernel expeller and oilcake (53% of total), which is an ingredient in livestock feed. A further 27% of imports are palm oil, which is used in many processed foods, such as biscuits, cakes and confectionary, and personal hygiene products (e.g. soap).
- Soy: This is the second-most-likely commodity to come from high or very high-risk countries for deforestation and/or social issues. Soy is mainly used as feed for livestock; the Welsh poultry industry is estimated to be responsible for consuming 48% of Wales’ imported soy, followed by dairy (20%) and sheep (19%).
- Beef: Wales has a higher proportion of its beef land footprint in Brazil compared to the rest of the UK (15% of total versus 12%). This is due to higher levels of corned beef consumption in Wales; corned beef is nearly always made with cheap, unsustainably farmed meat from Brazil.
- Cocoa: Wales imports the majority of its cocoa from West African countries, where there are risks of deforestation and social issues, such as child labour. In total, 55% of cocoa import land footprint falls in countries that are high or very high risk for deforestation and/or social issues, including Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.
What can we do about it?
The message at the heart of this new report is that Wales urgently needs to change what it buys, consumes and invests in.
But on an individual level, there are things that we can all do to help mitigate Wales’ impact on the rest of the world.
- Check labels and buy only certified products wherever possible. For example, FSC-certified wood, furniture and paper, RSPO certified products containing palm, such as soap, and Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance products containing cocoa.
- Eat less & better meat. Look for organic or Pasture for Life (100% grass-fed) beef, lamb and dairy products which are not fed on soy. Unfortunately, there are currently only a few places in the UK selling 100% soy-free chicken.
- Write to your local Member of the Senedd. Ask them to support calls for Wales’ supply chains and commodity imports to be deforestation-free: https://www.wwf.org.uk/wales-global-responsibility/contact-your-ms.
- Demand greater transparency and action from your supermarkets and favourite brands. Ask them to ensure that the products you enjoy are not associated with deforestation, and/or social issues such as child or forced labour.