European Union lawmakers have backed a proposal for a law that would ban the sale in the 27-nation bloc of agriculture products linked to the destruction of forests, and human rights violations. The bill was supported by 453 votes, to 57 with 123 abstentions. The EU Parliament will now start negotiations on the final text with EU member states.
Once approved, the law would force companies and producers to give assurances that products are “deforestation-free.” Businesses would be forced to verify that agricultural goods sold in the EU have not been made on “deforested or degraded land anywhere in the world,” the Parliament said.
“Acknowledging that the EU is responsible for around 10% of global deforestation, we have no choice but to ramp up our efforts to halt global deforestation,” said Christophe Hansen, the lawmaker in charge of the Parliament’s report.
In addition, MEPs proposed that banks and financial institutions should be covered by the law to prevent them from investing in projects linked to deforestation.
Quoting data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the EU Parliament said that some 420 million hectares of forest were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020. This is an area larger than the EU.
The European Commission, which proposes EU laws and supervises the way they are enacted, suggested last year that the legislation covered soy, cattle, palm oil, wood, cocoa and coffee.
Under the position adopted on Tuesday, lawmakers also want to include pig meat, sheep and goats, poultry, maize and rubber, as well as charcoal and printed paper products.
“MEPs also want companies to verify that goods are produced in accordance with human rights provisions in international law and respect the rights of indigenous people,” the Parliament said.
The EU Parliament voted in favor of the following key measures to strengthen the draft law tabled by the European Commission:
– more robust definitions of deforestation and forest degradation, which will ensure greater protection of forests from agricultural expansion and destructive logging practices;
– stronger protection of human rights, especially the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, which are often violated when ecosystems are destroyed;
– a broader list of commodities and products covered by the law – adding rubber, maize and other livestock (pigs, sheep, goats and poultry) to the six commodities proposed by the Commission (palm oil, soy, coffee, cocoa, cattle and wood) – and resisting pressure to exclude leather;
– extending the law to cover European financial institutions, whose investment portfolios would need to be vetted for links to projects and companies causing forest destruction.
The Parliament also joined the Commission and national governments in backing the need to trace products back to the source, including with the use of geolocation, to verify they are not from deforested areas, and ruled out any exemptions or special treatment for products covered by voluntary certification schemes.
Despite these steps forward to protect forests, other ecosystems such as savannahs and wetlands remain under threat from agricultural expansion and the impact of EU consumption. However, the Parliament approved a review clause that would allow the Commission to widen protection to all natural ecosystems in the coming year.
The Czech government, who hold the rotating presidency of the EU, will lead talks on behalf of governments and is under pressure to conclude the negotiations in time for UN climate and biodiversity summits towards the end of 2022.