How Welsh Diets Drive Deforestation

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It’s often hard to think about the long and complex road our food takes from the ground to our dinner plates and the impacts our diet has on the environment. The current pandemic has raised more than ever the importance of safe and secure food supplies. One area that many are not aware of is how the choices made when we visit the supermarket are leading to unprecedent loss of tropical forests.

Tropical deforestation has been accelerating in recent years and this is driven by demand for key products.  Just a handful of products are driving this deforestation.

Beef – clearing land for pastures is the leading cause of tropical deforestation1. While the UK only imports a small amount of beef from tropical regions, it finds its way into our diets through ready meals and processed meats.

Soy and soy-based products – are widely seen as the second largest driver of tropical deforestation[1]. You might think we must therefore all be drinking lots of soymilk. But in reality, we don’t consume the majority of this soy directly. The majority of soy that comes into the UK is used in animal feed[2]. This soy is used to feed cows, pigs, chicken and even the farmed fish we ourselves eat. You might have thought that buying UK reared meat couldn’t possibly have an impact on a forest halfway around the world, unfortunately this is not true.

Palm and its derivatives – a leading causing deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil, a vegetable oil produced from the palm plant, is one of the most productive vegetable oils. Palm oil and its derivatives find their way into 50 per cent of the packaged products on the shelves of our supermarket[3]. It is impossible to avoid and yet our consumption drives forest clearings of some of the most vital forests.

Cacao and coffee – land clearing for the production of our favourite pick-me-ups is a growing concern as global demand for these products increases[4][5]. Often this is small scale farming in African nations who are growing increasing amounts to meet our demand for caffeine and chocolate.

Of course, there are other drivers too. Timber, mining and other activity cause deforestation worldwide, but our food choices are driving the largest clearing of forests ever seen.

Tropical forests couldn’t be more important than right now. Limiting climate change to 1.50c warming will be impossible without them[6], and yet their destruction is already contributing to global CO­­2 levels. Current deforestation is releasing more CO2 than the whole of the EU[7].

But we need tropical forests for so many more reasons. If we want to avoid future pandemics, we need to stop burning our forests. Deforestation has been linked to several diseases being spread from malaria[8] to Ebola[9],.  A lot of research predicts that future deforestation will increase the likelihood of global pandemics ever further[10].

And this is without even mentioning tropical forests roles in weather systems, their importance for biodiversity and that 25% of all medicines have been discovered in the rainforests[11]. Did you know that 70 per cent of all cancer drugs comes from the rainforest?

Well the solutions are known today.

Size of Wales is working to address these issues through a variety of means. We work with Indigenous people to protect forests from exploitation, support businesses to consider their supply chains and are campaigning for changes to law in the UK that would require supplies of goods to address this deforestation.

And we are not alone in this, charities like WWF and RSPB are working hard to address these issues, including creating guides and approaches for consumers and producers.

From WWFs guide on how to source sustainable palm oil to its palm oil scorecard which includes clear guidance for consumers. We can farm more sustainably if we follow the RSPB’s Less is More approach.

But there are also clear actions we can take in Wales today for each of the commodities highlighted here, that reduces our impacts and goes some way to helping prevent deforestation.

  • Palm oil – buy products that contain sustainable palm oil and are certified by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil.
  • Soy and beef – buy local produced meat that is 100% grass fed or organic, buy organic soy-based products. Reducing our meat consumption will also help.
  • Cacao and coffee – stick to Fairtrade which includes a no deforestation criteria. Wales was the first Fairtrade nation after all[12].

For more information and to support our forest projects, visit www.sizeofwales.org.uk


[1] https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/125012/meta

[2] https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-07/RiskyBusinessReport_2020.pdf

[3] https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil#:~:text=Palm%20oil%20is%20in%20nearly,in%20the%20UK%20though!).

[4] https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/business/responsible-sourcing/2019-sustainable-coffee-expo-addressing-deforestation-in-the-coffee-sector/

[5] https://www.mightyearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/chocolates_dark_secret_english_web.pdf

[6] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05340-z

[7] https://news.mongabay.com/2018/10/tropical-deforestation-now-emits-more-co2-than-the-eu/

[8] https://news.mongabay.com/2019/10/malaria-deforestation-amazon/#:~:text=A%20recent%20study%20found%20that,percent%20rise%20in%20malaria%20cases.

[9] https://forestsnews.cifor.org/63478/human-deforestation-activities-link-bats-to-ebola-outbreaks?fnl=#:~:text=Africa%20%2D%20Deforestation%20may%20accelerate%20the,to%20humans%20and%20other%20primates.

[10] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stopping-deforestation-can-prevent-pandemics1/

[11] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/articles/how-to-be-a-botanical-buff/

[12] https://fairtradewales.com/fair-trade-nation


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