On May 28, the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) held its general assembly to vote on criteria for responsible soy. These had been heavily criticised by many environemental organisations and peasant movements. Within the RTRS, there was deep disagreement about whether and what biodiversity-criterion to adopt, a key element.
At the last minute, the Executive Board published criteria, which could allow responsible soy to be grown on land that was deforested as recently as May 2009. Even soy fields on recently cut prime rainforest can produce responsible soy. Worse still, soy can be labelled responsible from land deforested after May 2009 too, if the producer can demonstrate that it was not prime forest or High Conservation Value (HCV) area, or ‘local peoples’ land’ (not further defined).
This was too much even for the Brazilian association of soy producers APROSOJA, who physically walked out and cancelled their RTRS membership. Unilever representative Jan Kees Vis downplayed the importance of APROSOJA by saying they “only” produce 8% of world soybeans. This might seem little, but it is not. At the level of Brazil, APROSOJA reportedly counts for 25% of Brazilian soy production.
Representative of development NGO Solidaridad Jan Maarten Dros commented on the issue in a Dutch newspaper. He said “it is positive that APROSOJA is still willing to talk, be it under new conditions”. What conditions, we may wonder, and not a very promising negotiation strategy. Solidaridad has become the new President of the RTRS.
Argentinean NGO FUNDAPAZ has also walked out, as they don’t find the criteria strong enough, and don’t see a further role for themselves to play. This means the illegitimacy of the RTRS has only increased. After the May 28 vote, the next day Friends of the Earth Netherlands protested in front of AHOLD, a Dutch supermarket chain, who is hiding behind being member of the RTRS in order not having to take real steps to address the soy issue. (See www.milieudefensie.nl ) To date, 2400 people from around the world have sent emails to WWF, Solidaridad, AHOLD, Carrefour and other RTRS members to disbandon the RTRS via the website www.toxicsoy.org.