Roundtable on Responsible Soy - the certification smokescreen

The Roundtable on Responsible Soy launched its voluntary certification process in 2006, with the first certificates introduced in 2011. Audits of 10 of the companies certified have now been published online. This briefing by the GM Freeze, Friends of the Earth (England Wales and Northern Ireland) and Corporate Europe Observatory analyses the audits and finds they show little evidence of responsible soy production on the ground. 

Responsible - “based on or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking”

The Roundtable on Responsible Soya (RTRS) Annual Conference will be held at Park Inn Heathrow Hotel, on the 23rd and 24th May 2012.

The RTRS is a voluntary certification scheme, established in May 2004 and formally launched in 2006 as the RTRS Association. Members include food and agribusiness giants including Cargill, Monsanto and Sainsbury’s, but also some NGOs including WWF. Negotiations on criteria were a cumbersome process that took some considerable time, and the actual certification of RTRS soya production commenced in 2011.

From the outset, there has been strong opposition by social movements and environmental organisations both in Europe and in producing countries, which has weakened the initiatives’ legitimacy. In 2011, over 25,000 people sent messages to major European and UK retailers demanding to boycott RTRS certified soya and look for real solutions. Nevertheless, some European NGOs keep supporting the project .

In order to get the agribusiness multinationals in the soya supply chain to participate, the RTRS adopted a watered-down approach. That meant ignoring the GM soya issue and weakening the requirements around deforestation and pesticide application. The resulting RTRS criterion fails to address the critical issue of GM Roundup Ready (RR). They also allow deforestation of the Amazon and other valuable ecosystems like the Chaco and Cerrado, as long as the land is in an area “zoned” for agricultural use.

The credibility of any remaining agreed criteria through the RTRS process was also significantly damaged by the resignation of two major Brazilian organisations in the soya supply chain.  Aprosoja (representing 6000 soya producers in Matto Grosso) in May 2009 and ABIOVE  (representing the Brazilian vegetable oil sector) in March 2010. So far certification only covers a very small part of the crop in four soya producing countries – Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and India.

The first audit reports have now been published online on the RTRS website, covering ten soya companies in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, including soya mega-producers Blairo Maggi (Brazil) and Grupo Los Grobo (Argentina). This briefing shows that the reports provide further evidence of what critics have been saying so far:
•    RTRS certified soya does not provide any benefit in terms of ‘sustainability’ or improvement in production methods.
•    RTRS certification merely rubber stamps current practices of soya producers.
•    There is no evidence that the existence of the RTRS has improved anything in relation to deforestation, pesticide use or impacts on neighbouring communities.
•    GM RR soya production methods are regarded in the reports as climate-friendly and beneficial for soils and water conservation.