Wednesday

31st May 2023

EU parliament outlaws products linked to deforestation

  • In the last 30 years, an area exceeding the surface area of the entire EU has been cleared. (Photo: CIFOR)
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The European Parliament approved a new law proposal outlawing products linked to deforestation.

The adopted text covers seven household products, including wood, cattle, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee and rubber and derivatives like chocolate, furniture and certain cosmetics.

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In the last 30 years, an area exceeding the surface area of the entire EU has been cleared for the consumption of these products, "all too often without consumers knowing about it," said conservative European People's Party MEP and rapporteur of the file Christophe Hansen on Wednesday in Strasbourg (19 April). "I am relieved consumers no longer have to be complicit in deforestation."

Although only ten percent of lost forest cover is directly attributable to European consumers, Hansen believes others will follow the EU example.

"If our trade partners see that deforestation-free supply chains are possible, they will go down the same path," he told EUobserver. Indeed, the EU's initiative has prompted the US to review a similar bill dubbed the Forest Act.

Although the impact is still hard to gauge, the EU Commission estimates the law would directly protect an area equivalent to 100.000 football fields of forest.

Woods for the trees

One of the challenges will be implementation.

Deforestation has to be traceable to its source for the law to succeed. But commodities are often sourced from global supply chains, complicating the matter.

According to commission figures, companies can have up to 190,000 suppliers in their systems, hailing from countries around the globe. And supply chains can differ "significantly" from one product to the other, said Hansen, and multiple producers often store or ship their products in mixed tanks.

Ensuring soy or palm oil is deforestation-free "inevitably means" supply chains to the EU have to be separated, said Hansen wrote in a statement accompanying the legislation.

In practice, this means products have to be traced back to an individual plot of land or a small farmer working "only a few acres", far removed from relevant authorities.

The idea is that every plot of land linked to deforestation will be traced, for which administrators could use "DNA checks or satellite imagery," said Hansen.

How enforcement will finally work has yet to be developed. It is up to the commission to design the necessary tools and benchmarks to make the comprehensive system work, which Hansen admits could be "complicated and costly."

But proof that it can be done, Hansen said, can be found in the established system of genetically modified products, which are already separated from goods destined for the EU market where GMOs are subject to strict regulation.

Exporters violating EU rules risk facing a penalty of up to four percent of their annual EU turnover.

"Not every crate can be checked, of course, but producers should know there will be consequences if they act criminally," Hansen told EUobserver.

Unfair?

The law has yet to be formally endorsed by member states, with Finnish lawmakers describing some of its details as "unfair."

"Finland is 75 percent forest. If farmers cannot even build a shed because it causes deforestation, how can they make investments," asked Finnish centrist MEP for Renew Elsi Kaitanen ahead of the vote on Monday, adding she "could not support the proposal."

However, the widely supported proposal is not expected to be derailed in the council, and the law is expected to come into effect before the end of the year.

In two years, there will be a possibility to review and update the proposal, at which point the commission will be required to come up with an assessment for an extension of the requirements to financial institutions and investors.

"This landmark law is a much-needed ray of hope for the world's forests," said Giulia Bondi, a senior international NGO Global Witness campaigner. "However, it needs the final piece of the puzzle — the European Commission must urgently deliver a new law that would stop banks from funding deforestation."

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