The European Commission proposed a new law to halt deforestation and minimise the EU’s impact on forests worldwide. The new law aimed at preventing palm oil and other products linked to deforestation from being sold in the EU single market of 450 million consumers. But campaigners and critics have highlighted that the impact assessment reveals “significant omissions” in the plans, including the exclusion of endangered grasslands and wetlands, as well as products that raise environmental concerns, such as rubber and maize.
Recent investigations by Global Witness show for the first time that EU demand for rubber is the most important contributor to Europe’s deforestation footprint across west and Central Africa deforestation. The report highlights that even though EU’s demand for rubber is the biggest driver of deforestation in west and Central Africa, the EU excluded the commodity in its recent proposed law to halt deforestation.
The EU imports 30 per cent of all rubber shipped by Africa’s top producers, worth 12 times more than its imports of palm oil from the same region. EU officials previously concluded that maize and rubber only account for a small fraction of deforestation, while overall trade in these goods is large, meaning that “a very large effort” will generate “little return in terms of curbing deforestation driven by EU consumption”.
Earlier, under the disguise of environmentalism and climate impact, the EU introduced Farm to Fork strategy which promotes national agri-food products and discourages imported products and is outright protectionist. According to a report by the USDA, as a result of the F2F strategy, the number of people suffering from food insecurity globally would rise by 22 million. Additionally, developing countries will struggle to comply with the new EU standards.
Why, then, is the EU so set on attacking palm oil, whatever the consequences? Why does its anti-deforestation strategy appear to single out certain products while ignoring others? The answer may lie in the fact that some other industries, unlike palm oil, are based in the EU, so there is a protectionist incentive to safeguard them.
It seems that tackling deforestation is not the true aim after all. The EU has had its sights set on palm oil for a long time. Under the pretence of stopping imported deforestation, the EU is furthering its protectionist agenda. The EU has very conveniently ignored imported commodities that are causing deforestation and the regions that are affected the most by the EU imports. Instead, the EU’s proposed law focuses on commodities that can affect its domestic industries.
The EU has been consistently targeting the Palm Oil industry saying that it is driving deforestation in south-east Asia. However, 90 per cent of the palm oil imported into the EU is certified as sustainable anyway. This constant targeting of palm oil is driven by European vegetable oil producers’ lobby. France, one of the leading producers of rapeseed oil and the leader of the EU, has been pushing these laws to protect its domestic rapeseed oil industry.
Policymakers in the EU have always ignored the fact that palm oil is way more sustainable than any other vegetable oil. Oil yields for palm per hectare is almost 6-10 times that of other oilseeds such as rapeseed, soybean, olive, or sunflower. To replace palm oil would mean nine times more land allocation to produce a similar amount of oil from these alternative crops.
University of Bath scientists recently showed in Nature Sustainability that banning palm oil could drive greater rates of deforestation, by switching demand to less efficient edible oils like sunflower or rapeseed which use more land, water and fertiliser.
The EU, then, should drop the façade of green virtue-signalling. Because palm oil is so much more land-efficient than other vegetable oils, switching away from it will make deforestation worse, not better. Meanwhile, other products like rubber which are the true culprits get away almost scot-free.