Our groceries shouldn’t cost the earth: how EU consumption causes the destruction of the rainforest


A new EU law to stop Europe’s complicity in global deforestation is in the pipeline. Time is running out. We need a strong law that effectively bans products linked to the destruction of forests and other ecosystems. The rainforest can’t wait any longer, writes Marie Toussaint, Greens/EFA MEP.

Ana_Cotta S.O.S Amazônia/ Flickr CC BY 2.0
Deforestation in the Amazon/ Ana_Cotta S.O.S Amazônia/ Flickr CC BY 2.0

While the Amazon rainforest was consumed by fires last year, few of us realise that Europe is just as complicit in eating large areas of the rainforest every single year. Experts call it “imported deforestation”, a term that refers to the precious natural forests outside of the EU that are destroyed to make the products we consume every day.

Our supermarket shelves are a display of destruction. We’re advertised milk from cows reared on soya – grown on land once covered in spectacular jungle, but now planted in neat rows of genetically-engineered soya drenched in chemical weedkillers. On the next shelf, we’re offered beef produced in giant cattle ranches on deforested land. It’s the same with wood products, cocoa and coffee. And, let’s not forget the shampoos, toothpaste and peanut butter containing palm oil, known to be a major driver of deforestation and habitat destruction for some of our most endangered species. The list is endless, and even the most careful shopper would be hard-pressed to avoid any problematic products.

The problem is so huge that, in fact, the EU is the second largest “importer of deforestation” linked to global trade after China.

Between 1990 and 2008, Europe was responsible for the loss of an area of the Amazon the size of Portugal, due to EU consumption of agricultural commodities grown on deforested land. New research shows that each person in rich nations accounts for the loss of four trees somewhere else in the world every year!

EU Flag / CC0 christian-lue
EU Flag / CC0 christian-lue

But, there is good news: a new EU law to stop imported deforestation is in the making

After long discussions, the EU is finally preparing a law so that products sold here can no longer be linked to the destruction of forests and other ecosystems. Under the new law, companies will have to make sure that whatever they sell in Europe does not come from land where forests, savannahs, wetlands or grasslands have been degraded or cleared entirely to make room for agricultural production.

Deforestation in the Amazon /CIFOR / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Deforestation in the Amazon /CIFOR / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This could be a game changer!

Finally, producers, traders and retailers will have to guarantee that our supermarkets are free from products that cause our precious natural resources to be destroyed. The finance industry will have to ensure that companies involved in destroying rainforests and other valuable ecosystems don’t receive their support.

Blurry supermarket aisle / Indiana Stan / CC BY-NC 2.0
Blurry supermarket aisle / Indiana Stan / CC BY-NC 2.0

Here’s the bad news: powerful industries want to derail this law

There’s still a possibility that a wheel will fall off this legal shopping cart. Powerful industries are at work to delay and dilute the legislation.

Companies have been lobbying hard to weaken the new law so they don’t have to change their business practices. A food industry association, whose members include food giants like Kellogg’s, Nestlé and Mars, is asking the European Commission to stimulate progress but refrain from imposing tough penalties. The same is true for the food retail association representing supermarket chains like Delhaize, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour. Although some of these companies say they support the new law, they don’t want an effective law that will truly hold them accountable.

Other companies involved in destroying the world’s forests want to be exempt from the new legislation altogether. Europe’s woodworking industry, for example, says there is no need for “additional EU legislation” for wood. And, Brazilian soy producers claim that their product “should be excluded from future regulations”. These forest-wrecking companies don’t think the new EU law should apply to them.

Woman with loud speaker/ CC0 Clem Onojeghuo
Woman with loud speaker/ CC0 Clem Onojeghuo

What can we do to stop companies selling products in the EU that destroy nature?

Unfortunately, as members of the European Parliament, we can only improve the proposed law when it’s on our tables. And, at the moment, we are not able to make changes to it yet!

Here’s where you come in. We need your help to influence this law while the European Commission is still working on it. Please send an email to the Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, to ask him to propose a strong law that effectively bans products linked to the destruction of forests and other ecosystems from the EU market.

We need this law to be sure that our grocery shopping doesn’t accidentally bankroll the destruction of precious ecosystems. It is the companies profiting from ecosystem destruction that must change, not on individual consumers. By the time we get to the supermarket checkout, we need to know that our shopping hasn’t already cost the earth.

We’ve already written the email for you, all you need to do is press the send button.

Thank you for your support!

MEP Marie TOUSSAINT/ European Union 2019
MEP Marie TOUSSAINT/ European Union 2019

For more information:

Franziska Achterberg – Biodiversity campaigner