Cadbury chocolate and Anchor butter among UK dairy products linked to deforestation in Brazil

ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports on the everyday products linked to deforestation in Brazil

They are Britain’s best known dairy brands that live inside our fridges.

Cadbury’s chocolate, Cathedral City cheddar, Anchor butter, Country Life butter, Clover dairy spread, Davidstow cheddar, Arla’s Cravendale milk, and Asda’s Farmers Milk - all proudly wear their British farm credentials, and we consume them in vast quantities.

But an investigation by ITV News, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Greenpeace Unearthed has linked them to the destruction of vast tracts of Brazilian forest through soya – a protein-rich cattle feed supplement.

Deforestation in the Cerrado region in Brazil. Credit: ITV News

The Cerrado in Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Species-rich and a highly valuable carbon dioxide-absorbing forest, it is being burned and chopped down to grow soya.

We can reveal that soybeans from deforested land are being mixed in with certified beans and ultimately fed to dairy cattle in the UK. Their milk often ends up in the dairy products we know and love.

And while our investigation has identified the household names above, there could be many more British dairy products linked to deforestation in Brazil.

Anna Jones from Greenpeace explains the global impact deforestation of the Cerrado could have

“People aren’t really aware that their cheese has deforestation in it”, says Anna Jones from Greenpeace UK. “The reason why it matters is because these forest that have been destroyed are critically important for our climate and for planetary health. If we don’t have those forests, then our climate will tip into a kind of chaos.”

The UK imports around 2.6 million tonnes of soya for animal feed each year - that's the weight of more than 5,000 jumbo jets. 

Nearly 30% comes from Brazil, according to EFECA, some of that from the Cerrado.

Over the years, more than half of the Cerrado's original forest has been cleared for agriculture. Every three months it loses an area of forest the size of London, according to the WWF.

Our investigation found Cargill, one of the world’s largest food conglomerates, is sourcing soya from recently deforested farms in the Cerrado. US-owned Cargill supplies soya to some of the UK’s biggest feed companies. Dairy farmers here believe they are buying sustainably soured soya, but our investigation suggests otherwise.

The Cerrado in Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Credit: ITV News

Around 2% of cattle feed contains soya and while the figure is small, the impact is high, allowing cows to increase their milk yields.

Fifth generation Cornish dairy farmer James Warren feeds his award-winning herd on a mix containing around 1.4% soya. He told us sustainability is his top priority, but there is a cost implication to taking soya out of the equation: “It’s a very high source of protein. Soya helps you to produce milk as economically as you can, so we’re governed by price, and that’s the price supermarkets are willing to pay us for it," he said.

"We’ve got to produce the milk to sustain our businesses, to stay in the industry, as economically as we can.”

James is concerned that his feed could be linked to the felling of forests abroad, but believes responsibility does not just lie with British dairy farmers.

He said: “I love the countryside. As farmers, we work in the countryside and we don’t want to see the deforestation of any part of the world. So it would be a concern to us. We want to be part of the solution, we want to work with the public and we want the public to buy our products.”

James believes supermarkets are among those who can do more to prevent deforestation

“Deforestation - that’s not sustainable. And sustainability is what I want, it’s what everybody wants but it means if we work together and we change, that’s the way forward. However, it needs everybody from the source, through to the supermarkets, to the consumer all working together.” Deforestation in the Cerrado stretches far beyond illegal activity. 21 hectares of vegetation were lost every day last year in the region, according to Mapbiomas – that’s the size of 20 international rugby pitches. Private landowners in Brazil are still legally permitted to destroy forest for farming.

Dr Marta Giannichi from Brazil’s Environment Ministry told me she had no issue with that as it was legal: “The Forest Code allows for rural landowners to suppress a certain amount of vegetation… it is occurring in areas where they are allowed to happen. This is my point.” “So fundamentally, because it’s law you have no issue with it?” I asked. “Yes”, Dr Giannichi replied.

Dr Marta Giannichi from Brazil's Environment Ministry tells ITV News why she has no issue with private landowners destroying forests for farming

All of the companies involved in our investigation point towards their use of certification to ensure sustainability. But as our research reveals, uncertified soya gets into the feed creating questions about the supply chain. Cargill told ITV News: “We take this type of grievance against a supplier very seriously…..If violations are found in any area, we will take immediate action in accordance with our Soy Grievance Process. Cargill has worked relentlessly to build a more sustainable soy supply chain”.

Arla Foods who make Anchor butter, Cravendale milk, and ASDA’s Farmers milk told ITV News: “Both Arla and the dairy farmers that own our cooperative are taking steps to manage our use of soy responsibly. Since 2014, we have purchased RTRS-credits to cover use of soy in feed on Arla owner farms and in ingredients that is not already certified.”

Cattle eating feed containing soya.

Saputo, who make Cathedral City cheddar, Country Life butter, Clover dairy spread and Davidstow cheddar said: “From early 2022, our Davidstow Farm Standards will mandate that all farms which supply to Saputo Dairy UK’s Davidstow creamery must source feed from suppliers with a sustainable soy purchasing policy.” They add that they have been buying credits to support producers that cultivate soy in a responsible way. Asda, whose milk is supplied by Arla said: “We understand the importance of sustainable soy to our customers and are committed to reducing food production linked to deforestation. The soy supply chain can be extremely complex and we are working with our suppliers on a plan to ensure that by 2025 all of our soya is physically certified.”

Mondelez, which owns Cadbury, said: “Eliminating deforestation is critical to protecting the local ecosystems that farmers need to produce sustainable raw materials. "As part of our commitment to tackling deforestation, we have made it clear that we expect all our UK dairy suppliers to work with us and contractually commit to ensuring they are sourcing 100% deforestation free feed by 2023.” As for the supermarkets stocking these products, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) says it has “called on the Brazilian government to stop Amazon deforestation for soy production and are working with other stakeholders to ensure soya sources meet customer expectations on sustainability.

"Additionally, the BRC and its members are calling on the UK government to introduce into the Environment Bill mandatory due diligence to tackle deforestation and related human rights." Dairy products are at the heart of our food chain with milk production the diving force. However, with cows fed on a diet linked to deforestation, we are eating into planet-saving forest just to fulfil the human need for food.

Additional reporting by Philip Sime, ITV News and Andrew Wasley and Elisângela Mendonça from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.