The new report links Bunge to 11,351 hectares (27,869 acres) of recent deforestation in the Cerrado savannah after the purchase of three farms in the area, prompting some major European supermarkets to investigate and Cooperl, France’s biggest pork producer, to sever ties with the giant grain trader.
The Mighty Earth report, in partnership with Repórter Brasil, Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), and Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), comes as figures reveal record rates of deforestation in the Cerrado.
Termed ‘the forgotten jewel’, the Cerrado is a vast tropical savannah of over 200 million hectares (493,362,305 acres) in central Brazil, and has a huge carbon sink storing an estimated 13.7 billion tons of carbon in its soil and through its deep roots system.
According to the report, with annual revenues of US$67 billion, Bunge is the main supplier of soy animal feed to the meat industry in the European Union (EU) and is the trader with the greatest deforestation risk linked to soy in the Cerrado, after ADM and Cargill.
The grain elevation giant, Bunge, ships large amounts of soy to Europe to feed animals destined for the meat aisles of major European supermarkets-largely beef, poultry, pork, and dairy products.
Following the report, supermarkets in Europe, including Carrefour and Casino in France, Ahold Delhaize and Jumbo in the Netherlands, and Aldi South in Germany, have launched investigations concerning the allegations since they confirm links to soy from Bunge in their meat supply chains.
The report also points out that the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which goes into effect June 29, currently fails to offer legal protection for three-quarters of the Cerrado.
As such, under the EU regulation, commodity traders will have to prove that products such as soybeans and palm oil destined for the EU market are not linked to the conversion of forests.
Additionally, AidEnvironment, a partner of Mighty Earth, detected another five cases linked to an additional 14,598 hectares ( 36,014 acres ) of deforestation that took place on soy farms in the Cerrado in early 2023, in high-risk areas where Bunge is the leading soy exporter.
Bunge retaliates that deforestation was legal in Brazil
While Bunge has confirmed to Mighty Earth that it has recently sourced soy directly from four of the eight farms named in its investigation, the agribusiness giant said the deforestation was legal under Brazilian law.
Moreover, Bunge confirmed that it does not have a deforestation cut-off date of 2020 and will accept legally deforested, deforestation-risk, or deforestation-linked soy in its supply chain until 2025.
“Bunge’s commitment to be free of deforestation and native vegetation conversion in the value chains in 2025 is a central part of the company’s business strategy and planning,” a company spokesperson said in response to the report.
Nevertheless, Bunge said it does not source soy from illegally deforested areas and is committed to deforestation-free value chains in 2025.
“Bunge does not source soy from illegally deforested areas and has maintained strict control over socio-environmental criteria in our operations. We use cutting-edge satellite technology to monitor priority areas in South America… over 97% of our soybean volumes from Brazil are deforestation and conversion-free,” the spokesperson continued.
Bunge said its monitoring is capable of identifying changes in land use and soy planting on each of the farms it sources from and captures any newly cleared lands in the monitored regions.
“After our 2025 deforestation-free commitment, farmers that have planted soy over recently cleared lands will be excluded from the supply chain,” said the spokesperson.
Bunge says it is fully aware of the December 31, 2020 cut-off date specified in the EUDR and will take steps to ensure compliance with it and other applicable laws.
“As noted by Mighty Earth, the entire Cerrado does not currently fall within the scope of the EU Deforestation Regulation, thus the importance of Bunge’s industry-leading voluntary efforts, and our supply chain having attained 97% deforestation-free status is underlined,” explained the spokesperson.
Moreover, Bunge offers its Sustainable Partnership Program to support grain resellers in adopting socio-environmental verification systems, traceability, and monitoring, enabling them to improve visibility into their supply chains.
“We fully recognize the importance of the Cerrado biome and took the initiative in addressing deforestation there, without waiting for regulators to act.”