UK’s chicken boom fuelling South American deforestation, says Greenpeace

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Curbing red meat consumption has seen many British consumers switch pork and beef for chicken, but a new report from Greenpeace warns this is fuelling deforestation in South America.

Supermarkets and fast food chains in the UK are driving demand for chicken by ramping up promotional offers as more consumers move away from red meat for health, animal welfare and environmental grounds.

However, the ‘Winging it: How the UK’s chicken habit is fuelling the climate & nature emergency’ reveals that much of the chicken sold in the UK is contributing to the destruction of wildlife-rich forests in South America.

The UK imports over three million tonnes of soya every year from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to feed factory farmed animals – primarily chickens. Over one billion chickens are slaughtered in the UK every year, 95% of which are intensively farmed – a model of production that relies on industrial feed containing soya.

Meeting Britain’s annual demand for soya requires 1.4 million hectares of land – an area larger than Northern Ireland – and vast swathes of forest and wildlife-rich savannah in South America are being destroyed to grow the crop.

Greenpeace surveyed 23 UK leading food brands about their chicken sales and soya usage, including supermarkets, fast food outlets and other quickserve restaurants.

It found that UK supermarkets account for two-thirds of the UK’s soya imports – the vast majority for animal feed. Tesco alone admits to using one sixth of the UK’s soya – 99% of if for animal feed.

Moreover, leading supermarkets are buying their soya from commodity giants like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill, all of which have been involved in the destruction of forests or other habitats in the Brazilian Cerrado.

None of the companies surveyed could guarantee the soya they use for meat production was deforestation-free. Some, like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Nando’s and Subway refused to disclose their meat sales or soya use altogether.

Some leading supermarkets claim to be supporting the production of sustainable soya but in practice, this means buying credits to offset their soya use.

Not a single company contacted by Greenpeace was able to demonstrate it was actually tracking the full amount or origin of soya consumed as animal feed in its supply chain.

Currently only 2% of soya is covered by actual certification schemes, which still does not guarantee deforestation-free.

Meanwhile, market research by Kantar shows retailers are aggressively promoting chicken products to their customers. Promotions of chicken breasts have gone up by 46% and price cuts have doubled last year compared with 2018. Promoted sales of chicken legs have more than doubled (+158%) and price cuts trebled over the same period.

“For too long the impact on our planet of growing crops for UK chicken feed have been overlooked. A straight swap from beef to chicken effectively amounts to outsourcing emissions of our meat consumption from the UK to South America,” said , Greenpeace UK forest campaigner Chiara Vitali.

“The simple truth is, we cannot continue to consume any type of industrially-produced meat in the volumes we currently are. It’s why we’re calling on companies to set clear meat reduction targets and be transparent about where their animal feed comes from.”

Vitali added: “High street giants like Tesco and Sainsbury’s should be responding to the climate and nature emergency by helping customers move to a healthier plant-based diet. McDonald’s, KFC, Nando’s and Burger King can’t hide behind a refusal to disclose.

“Their business models are incompatible with protecting our planet for future generations, which makes them incredibly high-risk companies.”