Ban on supermarket essentials linked to illegal deforestation: Environment Act 2021

The Environment Act 2021 introduced provisions to make it illegal for larger businesses operating in the UK to use forest-risk commodities.  However, an investigation carried out by Global Witness and Trase recently concluded that more than 50,000 acres of deforestation, largely from tropical areas such as Indonesia and Brazil, were linked to forest-risk commodities imported to the UK between November 2021 and July 2023, such as beef, soy and palm oil products.  The government seemingly had not acted quickly enough to determine which forest-risk commodities ought to be included on the list and in putting mandatory regulation in place to guide businesses.

At COP28 Nature Day on 9th December 2023, UK Environment Secretary Steve Barclay set out how the law will remove products linked to illegal deforestation from some supermarket shelves: businesses with a turnover exceeding £50 million and that use more than 500 tonnes of regulated commodities annually will be prohibited from using products grown on land linked to illegal deforestation.  This legislation, introduced through the Environment Act 2021, represents a marked change from the voluntary approached that had been in place previously. The businesses will also be required to undertake a due diligence exercise on their supply chains and to report on this exercise annually for transparency. 

Steve Barclay stated: “Globally, we lose forests equivalent to the size of about 30 football pitches every minute.” “It’s why we are cleaning up supply chains to make sure that big businesses in the UK aren’t responsible for illegal deforestation. It also means shoppers can be confident that the money they spend is part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”

This move is a shift in the right direction towards protecting the world’s environment; it will help towards safeguarding the habitats of endangered species, including leopards and tigers, and should provide some reassurance to the general public that, by purchasing goods at supermarkets that fall within the above criteria, they are not contributing towards illegal deforestation.  However, this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg in tackling deforestation and climate change as a whole.

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