photo: jster91 via flickr
Beef cattle raised for export rightly getting a lot of the blame for deforestation in Brazil, but historically soybean farming hasn't exactly been a benign thing either. However at a recent meeting of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy a pilot program of voluntary production standards was adopted to help reduce the impact of soy on the environment and workers:The follow set of (frankly rather broad) principals will be tested by members of RTRS and revised before being voted on at the next RTRS meeting in 2010:
- Comply with the lay and adopt good business practices
- Maintain good working conditions, such as paying workers the prevailing wage
- Dialogue with surrounding communities, such as equitably resolving land disputes
- Engage in good agricultural practices, such as reducing soil erosion, water use and pollution, and the sage handling and minimizing the use of agrochemicals
Just the fact that the first three of those principals are basically just saying, follow the rule of law, don't treat your workers as slaves, and don't exploit communities, gives you an idea of the baseline here.
The Hard Work Lies Ahead
But it is a start and WWF, which is among the NGOs working with RTRS is right in praising the action and identifying the challenges ahead. Cassio Moreira of WWF Brazil's Agriculture and Environment Program:
We welcome this decision by RTRS memebrs, but now the hard work begins to test and improve these standards over the next 12 months. Everybody in the soy supply chain needs to jump into this process and make it work, especially the buyers who must show their commitment to support the implementation of these standards.
Growing It ≠ People Will Buy It
That part about buyers showing commitment is telling. In regards to another agricultural commodity often produced in less than environmentally friendly ways, palm oil, a recent survey (also by WWF) revealed that though strides were being made in producing sustainable palm oil, only 1% of it was actually being sold.
More: WWF (press release)