Supplier engagement a key focus for UK companies targeting sustainable soy sourcing

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Sakorn Sukkasemsakorn
© GettyImages/Sakorn Sukkasemsakorn

Related tags UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soy

Some 43% of UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soy members are currently specifying requirements for deforestation and conversion free (DCF) soy to suppliers, with a further 48% reporting they plan to do so in the next 12 months.

Each year, Efeca, as secretariat of the roundtable, produces an annual progress report, summarising where UK industry is at in terms of the uptake of DCF soy. “In this, the fifth year of reporting, it is possible to see the significant progress made by members.”

Member companies complete a questionnaire, on an annual basis, where they are asked to report on progress against their sustainability commitments.

“When asked about how companies are supporting suppliers to make the transition to DCF soy many reported supplier engagement as a key focus. For example, many have held webinars, training sessions and events to engage and educate suppliers, including through the roundtable. This includes inviting them to join the roundtable’s webinar with RTRS on the role of mass balance certification.

“Companies also reported the use of supplier surveys and questionnaires to engage suppliers and to improve understanding of where soy is used and in what volumes. Finally, some companies reported engaging with their own buying teams, to ensure soy requirements were embedded within usual business practices.”

According to latest publication​, 34% of the UK’s soy used in animal feed is physically DCF and a further 30% is covered by a sustainability standard with criteria preventing deforestation and conversion driven by soy production, as per UK import data, and the information provided by UK roundtable members.

If the FEFAC risk methodology were to be applied to the unallocated volume remaining, the estimated level of deforestation and conversion risk varies between 17% and 1.7% subject to country of origin, reads the publication.

“We can also see that the proportion of soy purchased against a certification scheme has remained consistent, with 23% of direct volumes linked to a credit purchase and an additional 8% linked to a chain of custody model providing more physical assurance. This is a slight decrease in comparison to the previous year, many companies have attributed this to more detailed assessments of how soy is used in their supply chains, with some companies revising figures,” ​noted the authors.

Challenging circumstances 

The report relates to the UK’s use of soy in 2021. “Like last year’s report, we recognise the challenging circumstances industry has faced as a result of the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising energy prices and Brexit,”​ they said.

Those issues have resulted in logistical challenges such as a shortage of hauliers, price increases on input costs and pressures from lower cost product imports.

The Secretariat said it recognizes that many member companies have needed to focus on maintaining supply chains to meet customer demand. However, despite these challenges, UK industry has continued to remain engaged and make strong progress on sustainable soy targets, they said.

“Since the initial baseline report in 2018, the number of companies with a [sourcing] policy in place has increased by 26%, and those with existing policies have since strengthened them to be aligned with the roundtable goal. In addition, there has been a 50% increase in the number of roundtable members with an action plan in place, increasing from 30% of members to 80%."

Challenges remain when creating action plans, with many companies reporting that without collaborative working and shared solutions it will be challenging to achieve physical flows on an individual company basis, stressed the authors.

“Industry now needs additional support to transition to more physical assurance that soy is verified ​to be deforestation and conversion free. As industry awaits further information on incoming due diligence regulation, the year to come is one where we must create shared solutions to these challenges, building on the strong foundation of work achieved between 2021 and 2022 and create and operationalise practical solutions for the UK market.”

roundtable graphic
Soy application in feed is dominant © UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soy Annual Report 2022

UK’s imports of embedded soy on the rise, small dip in direct soy imports

In 2021, the UK imported 2.5m ton of soybean meal equivalents, a 6% year on year decrease.

Efforts are also being made by companies across the UK’s soy supply chain to learn more about where the UK’s soy imports originate. The report shows that the UK imported considerably more soy from Paraguay compared to the previous years, increasing by 45% in 2021. Similarly, India and the US also saw enhanced volumes in comparison to the previous year. However, imports from markets such as Argentina, and Canada, and European sources declined.

"Though these may appear significant changes, when considering imports over five years there is overall a strong level of consistency. For example, Argentina remains around 42-45% over the Roundtable reporting period, we perhaps see the greatest level of variation between Brazil and the USA, which is to be expected given that both countries are the top global producers and have been significantly impacted by trade policy between the US and China, but even these only vary by 5-10% over the five-year reporting period shown."

As well as direct soy imports, the report analyses the UK’s imports of ‘embedded’ soy, that is meat or dairy products derived from animals reared in other countries, consuming soy as part of their diets.

“This year the UK’s imports of embedded soy grew by 6% to close to 800,000 tons.

“While some sectors such as dairy have seen a decline in imports, which AHDB suggests may be a result of changes to trade regulation following Brexit, other sectors such as pork have seen an increase. This may be due to the competitive pricing of European pigs associated with a lower cost of production compared to those reared in the UK. UK pig farmers have been under sustained pressure due to a shortage of labour in the processing sector initially and then latterly high input costs, which have then been exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. AHDB report that this could lead to rising imports of pork in the future, as the UK’s sow herd declines.”​ 

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