A group of major food companies has written to the UK government calling for laws that would prevent imports of produce from any land that has been cleared of rainforest, regardless of whether the forest destruction was technically legal.
The 21 companies include Unilever, Tesco, Lidl, Nando's, Nestlé, and, as of Monday, McDonald’s. They signed the letter in answer to a government consultation on forest protection, the BBC reports.
The multinational businesses are arguing that planned new legislation around forest protection should prevent all firms from importing materials from land that has been cleared of forest — whether the forest was cleared illegally or legally.
"Restricting action to illegal deforestation would not achieve halting the loss of natural ecosystems, especially when governments have discretion to decide what is legal,” their letter says.
Currently, ministers are in the process of drawing up new laws that would ban larger companies from using produce from illegally deforested land.
The group argue in their letter, however, that medium size and smaller firms would then still be able to use produce linked to illegal deforestation under the new rules, and damage to biodiversity and the planet would still be done.
Instead, they are pressing for a level playing field so smaller operators don't gain a competitive advantage, and also for a wider ban, the BBC report explained.
While their call for a level playing field presents a business case for the group that have signed this letter — it happens to put them on the same side as environmental campaigners who agree that new rules should go much further.
Rob Willoughby, the UK director of the environmental nonprofit Mighty Earth, said that the legislation the government is planning would continue to “allow rampant deforestation in hotspots such as Indonesia and Brazil.”
"With the Amazon in flames and forests being cut down at an alarming rate, nature doesn't recognise the difference between legal and illegal deforestation,” he added.
Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, called for clearer and stricter rules from the government around deforestation in August.
At the time, Greenpeace had called out Tesco for buying meat from two suppliers linked to deforestation of the Amazon, and also for selling more meat than any other UK company.
However the company refused to cut ties with the two suppliers that Greenpeace had criticised.
Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis said that “we can’t solve this on our own”, and called for the government to “mandate food companies to introduce effective due diligence across supply chains.”
A spokesperson for the government defended the current proposals in a statement to the BBC, saying illegal deforestation was “an obvious place to start.”
They added: "Our proposed approach is designed to tackle illegal deforestation which accounts for nearly 50% of deforestation globally, but nearer 90% in key biomes, including part of the Amazon.”