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For Norway salmon farms giving up deforestation-linked soy, Cargill proves a roadblock

Coastal net pens for salmon aquaculture in Norway. Image by Brataffe via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Coastal net pens for salmon aquaculture in Norway. Image by Brataffe via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

  • Two major salmon producers in Norway have eliminated all links to deforestation in their soy supply chains, according to new analysis from eco-watchdog Rainforest Foundation Norway.
  • This is due in large part to a ripple effect down the value chain, after Brazilian soy suppliers to the European salmon industry made no-deforestation commitments earlier this year.
  • However, at least seven of the biggest salmon producers in Norway have yet to become fully deforestation-free, according to the report.
  • This is because they buy feed from Cargill Aqua Nutrition, whose parent company, U.S.-based Cargill, has been linked to deforestation in South America.

Two major salmon producers in Norway now have deforestation-free soy supply chains, following no-deforestation commitments made by Brazilian soy suppliers to the European salmon industry, according to new analysis published by watchdog group Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN).

Soy-derived products are heavily used in the production of salmon feed, where they serve as a protein source. In Norway, the four aquaculture feed giants, Mowi, BioMar, Skretting and Cargill Aqua Nutrition, largely buy soy protein concentrate (SPC) from one of three Brazilian suppliers: CJ Selecta, Caramuru and Imcopa.

Earlier this year, the three Brazilian SPC suppliers committed to an international ban on buying soybeans grown on land deforested after August 2020. While all three have bought deforestation-free soybeans and produced deforestation-free SPC for their European customers for years, under the new commitment, the entirety of their soybean operations, including portions external to the salmon value chain and in markets outside Europe, will become deforestation-free — entirely eliminating links to deforestation in their supply chains.

For majority of Norway’s four main feed suppliers, the move has also cleared their value chains of deforestation risk. The only exception is Cargill Aqua Nutrition, which itself provides “deforestation-free” feed, but whose U.S.-based parent company, Cargill, has been linked to deforestation activities in South America.

RFN’s report, released June 14, analyzed the soy supply chains of 10 of the biggest Norwegian salmon producers five months after the ban was announced. It found that two of the companies, Nordlaks and Bremnes Seashore, had fully cut all links to deforestation in their soy supply chains by avoiding Cargill Aqua Nutrition as a feed supplier. It also highlighted that at least seven of the largest salmon producers were still buying feed from Cargill Aqua Nutrition.

“It’s disappointing that only two of the 10 companies used this opportunity to have a fully deforestation-free supply chain,” Ida Breckan Claudi, an RFN senior adviser who specializes in global soy supply chains, told Mongabay. “[The link with Cargill] is a completely unnecessary one because there are four feed producers, three of which produce feed without any links to deforestation.

“The [seven producers] are making their own supply chains clean while financially supporting a company that continues to drive deforestation in South America,” she added.

An atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), at the Atlanterhavsparken aquarium in Ålesund, Norway. Photo by Hans-Petter Fjeld via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA).

Cargill has been linked to some 66,000 hectares (163,000 acres) of land clearance in Brazilian forests between March 2019 and March 2021 — an area larger than Oslo, the Norwegian capital — based on data from campaign organization Mighty Earth. The company’s ties to deforestation have also been acknowledged by the Norwegian salmon industry: in 2020, salmon producer Grieg Seafood issued a $105 million green bond with a particular condition that excluded Cargill Aqua Nutrition from receiving any proceeds from its planned environmental projects.

Activists say boycotting Cargill Aqua Nutrition, which contributes to about 2% of its parent company’s total revenue, would provide financial impetus to Cargill to change its operations. But salmon producers on both sides of the fence have favored a softer approach.

“We believe if we were to boycott Cargill, it will make no change to the situation on the ground in Brazil,” SalMar, which currently buys feed from the firm, said in an email. “Continued engagement is critical to changing the situation … it is more important to deliver sector level solutions across Brazil than to disengage and leave the challenges unresolved.”

“We are not boycotting [Cargill Aqua Nutrition],” Nordlaks, which used to buy feed from the company but has since switched to BioMar and Skretting, wrote in an email. It said that it had also previously “decided on not boycotting Brazilian soy, as [it had] believed in continuing to work with the supply chain to push for change,” and such efforts had turned out to be fruitful.

Cargill, which previously committed to having a deforestation-free global supply chain by 2030, said it recognized the “need to continue to work toward solutions that reach beyond the aquaculture industry to address the broad, complex issue of deforestation.”

“In South America, we are accelerating our efforts to a 100% deforestation- and conversion-free (DCF) direct sourced supply … in as short a time as possible,” the company wrote in an email.

Boycott or not, implementing more sustainable supply chain policies might at least help the company woo back old customers.

“Deforestation risk is one of several [environmental, social and governance] factors we need to consider when choosing suppliers,” Nordlaks wrote in its email. “Picking up our relationship with [Cargill Aqua Nutrition] would undeniably be easier if the parent company chose to fully [adopt] the same approach as in the aquaculture value chain.”

Banner image of coastal net pens for salmon aquaculture in Norway, by Brataffe via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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