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Supermarkets urge PM to introduce deforestation laws promised two years ago

The letter welcomed Rishi Sunak’s announcement to commit funds to tackle global deforestation this week at Cop28 in Dubai (Ben Birchall/PA)
The letter welcomed Rishi Sunak’s announcement to commit funds to tackle global deforestation this week at Cop28 in Dubai (Ben Birchall/PA)

Seven of the UK’s leading supermarkets have called on the Prime Minister to introduce deforestation legislation promised two years ago.

Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose signed an open letter this week, demanding Rishi Sunak promises the UK Government made at the 2021 Glasgow Cop26 summit to protect and restore forests.

It also comes two years after the Government passed the Environment Act, but has yet to pass secondary legislation to keep products responsible for deforestation off UK supermarket shelves.

The letter, orchestrated by WWF, welcomed Mr Sunak’s announcement to commit funds to tackle global deforestation this week at Cop28 in Dubai.

But it also said that simultaneously allowing products from illegal deforestation on to the UK’s shelves is “senseless”.

The letter read: “We applauded the Government’s actions in taking the first steps towards this through the adoption of the Environment Act in 2021.

“Two years have since elapsed and we are still waiting on the Government to follow up on its domestic commitments by laying the relevant secondary legislation and sharing guidance on how it will be enacted.

The supermarkets said they must plan and invest over several years to achieve their environment goals and restated their commitment to remove goods that are responsible for deforestation from their shelves.

“While UK legislative progress has been delayed, 7.87 million hectares of primary forest has been lost in just the last two years,” they said.

“As business leaders, we know conversion of natural ecosystems is not required to continue production, and that UK consumers want to see an end to such destruction.

“We are businesses with commitments to ensure our supply chains comply with the laws we trade in.

“As business leaders, we know conversion of natural ecosystems is not required to continue production, and that UK consumers want to see an end to such destruction.”

The supermarkets pointed out that the European Union adopted their own deforestation regulation in June, which will apply to companies with operations or supply chains in Northern Ireland.

They urged the Prime Minister to align the cut-off date and data requirements of the UK legislation with the EU’s Deforestation Regulation.

This would ensure British companies can provide the deforestation-free products they have committed to and enable access to export markets for both British producers and retailers.

It noted that the lack of progress for the UK to adopt secondary legislation on due diligence means there is “inadequate legal requirement” for British companies to supply the basic transparency needed to meet the legal trading requirements for operating in Northern Ireland.

“We respectfully request that the Government urgently follows through on its promise to deliver secondary legislation to implement the requirements of the Environment Act,” they said.

“Aligning the cut-off date and data requirements of the UK legislation with the EU’s Deforestation Regulation will help further our collective ambition more efficiently whilst reducing cost.

“Regulation is required and we will not succeed without your support.”

Earlier this year, the WWF’s Forest Pathways Report called on the Government to expand the due diligence system to include legal as well as illegal deforestation.

The report called on ministers to extend due diligence obligations to the financial services sector, establish a due diligence system that cuts deforestation out of supply chains, and introduce deforestation standards for all food sold and imported into the UK.

A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of delivering our world-leading due diligence legislation in our Environment Act to help tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains.

“We have consulted on these measures and are committed to implementing these provisions at the earliest opportunity.

“This is one part of a wider package of measures we have introduced to support the delivery of the historic agreement to halt and reverse global forest loss, agreed at the Glasgow Climate Summit.

“We will continue to invest in our international programmes to restore forests which have avoided over 410,000 hectares of deforestation to date, and support new green finance streams.”