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Cargill commits to zero deforestation across entire global supply chain: all commodities

Destruction of rainforest in Malaysia for palm oil production.
Destruction of rainforest in Malaysia for palm oil production. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.

Cargill, one of the world’s largest agricultural companies, has extended its zero deforestation commitment for palm oil to all commodities it produces.

The commitment, announced Tuesday at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, is the most far-reaching zero deforestation policy ever established, covering Cargill’s sprawling global empire of businesses, including palm oil, sugar, soy, cattle, and cocoa.

“We understand that this sort of commitment cannot be limited to just select commodities or supply chains,” said Cargill CEO David MacLennan. “That’s why Cargill will take practical measures to protect forests across our agricultural supply chains around the world.”

“We know we can do it. Our stakeholders demand it. And it is the right thing to do.”

Forest and soy fields in the Brazilian Amazon. In 2006 a Greenpeace campaign pushed the Brazilian soybean industry to adopt a moratorium on deforestation for soy production. That effort became the model for efforts to cut deforestation from cattle, pulp and paper, and palm oil supply chains.

The commitment comes just days after Cargill announced it had signed a deal with The Forest Trust (TFT) to implement a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” for its palm oil supply chain. It also follows years of campaigning by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) around the ag giant’s palm oil sourcing practices.

The activist group immediately welcomed the commitment.

“Today’s deforestation pledge by Cargill’s CEO is a welcome commitment and marks an important new course for the company,” said RAN Executive Director Lindsey Allen. “RAN looks forward to opportunities to engage with Cargill as they move forward over the next few months to translate this pledge into effective policies – and then to implement these reforms within Cargill’s daily operations in order to bring this pledge to life.”

Cargill’s pledge was also welcome by Forest Heroes, a new campaign that has focused on the links between big agricultural companies and tropical deforestation.

“Cargill’s commitment to cut deforestation across all commodities has the potential to be a transformative move in the fight against climate change,” said Glenn Hurowitz, Chairman of Forest Heroes, in a statement. “Cargill helped pioneer the success of the No Deforestation approach through its participation in the Brazilian moratorium on deforestation for soy in the Amazon. As the future of the soy moratorium hangs in the balance, it will be essential for Cargill and its peers to continue this essential policy in order to realize the company’s forest protection commitments. While implementation is the key, Cargill is doing the right thing by announcing it will take steps to protect forests wherever they are threatened.”

Rainforest and cattle pasture in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Cattle ranching drives more than 70 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Cargill isn’t the first agribusiness giant to establish a zero deforestation sourcing policy across all of its supply chains — Singapore-based Wilmar made the same commitment last December. Since then, dozens of major commodity buyers have announced zero deforestation commitments, ratcheting up pressure on other producers. Now Hurowitz is calling for Bunge and ADM to do the same.

“With Wilmar and Cargill moving to protect forest across a range of different crops, it’s time for Bunge and ADM to join them in creating this second green revolution that increases agricultural production while protecting the world’s forests,” said Hurowitz. “The economic future belongs to the companies that are at the forefront of protecting forests and fighting climate change.”

Commercial agriculture is the largest direct driver of tropical deforestation. After cattle ranching — the world’s largest cause of forest loss — palm oil, soy and sugar cane production have had a major role in forest conversion. Logging also contributes by facilitating access to remote areas and increasing pressure to clear forests for agriculture.

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