SAO PAOLO, Brazil -- Members of the international soy industry have agreed to finalize new global standards to improve soy production, moving responsible soy closer to being available in the marketplace.

The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) on Thursday adopted voluntary sustainability standards that will help ensure that current soy production and further expansion of the crop will be done in an environmentally sound and socially responsible way that avoids clearance of native forests and high-conservation-value areas. The standards also call for soy production to avoid polluting the environment and creating social conflicts.

“WWF welcomes the finalized RTRS standards, however, now we need to pull together to make the system work.", said Cassio Moreira, Coordinator of the WWF Brazil's Agriculture and Environment Program, who also serves on the RTRS board. “The results of the field tests show that the standards are practical and can be implemented. Now producers need to start the certification process and buyers need to demand RTRS-certified soy as soon as possible, so that the market starts moving and the share of soy under responsible cultivation expands."

Most importantly, the standards require producers to take certain measures to protect the environment. Those include prohibitions on the conversion of forests and areas with high conservation value -- such as rich savannahs -- reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the most hazardous pesticides in soy farming.

“Now that the production standards have been finalized, the RTRS must finalize its certification system to verify compliance with the standards and establish methods to trace the soy," Moreira said.

Once this certification and traceability system is adopted, the RTRS estimates that responsibly produced soy will be available as part of the next soy harvest in South American countries in March 2011.

The RTRS also agreed to develop a voluntary annex for RTRS members who wish to produce or trade in soy that is labelled as GM free.

The agreement is the result of years of dialogue between WWF, other NGOs, farmers, and the soy industry and finalized at the group's fifth annual meeting this week in Brazil. The RTRS currently counts more than 140 members, including major private interests in the soy industry, smallholder farmers, feed mill operators, traders, retailers, financial institutions, and social and environmental organizations.

The new standards, known as Principles and Criteria, require producers:

  • To comply with the law and adopt good business practices
  • To maintain good working conditions, such as paying workers the prevailing wage.
  • To dialogue with surrounding communities, such as equitably resolving land disputes.
  • Not to expand into native forests such as the Amazon and other habitats with high value such as certain areas of the Cerrado and Chaco
  • To engage in good agricultural practices, such as reducing soil erosion, water use and pollution, and the safe handling and minimizing the use of agrochemicals.

A pilot version of the standards had been adopted at the RTRS annual meeting in May 2009, and field tested during 2009 and 2010 by RTRS member producer companies in, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and India. The results of the field tests were used as input by the working group that finalized the standards that were ratified by the association on Thursday.

The RTRS reported that approximately 224,000 hectares were included in these field test projects, which are expected to produce a total of 650,000 tons of RTRS field-tested soy.

Expanding soy production has been linked to the dramatic loss of natural habitats, especially forests and savannahs, in South America. Soy fields have already replaced much of Brazil's savannahs (the Cerrado) and the Argentinean Chaco, as well as threatening the Amazon by pushing cattle ranching into that area. The expansion of soy production also threatens the livelihoods of local communities. Agriculture contributed to the disappearance of most of the Atlantic Forest in southern Brazil and eastern Paraguay in the 1970s and 1980s -- a scenario that could be repeated in other regions as the global demand for soy is expected to double by 2050.

Soybeans are used in the production of edible oil, foods, and feed for cattle, pigs, poultry and fish. More recently, soy has been used in the production of biofuels to meet increasing energy needs.

SOURCE: WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund, except
in North America where the old name was retained).