Why does Indonesia import meat

Unclean trade balance : Europe exports environmental problems to the global south

A year ago, in December 2019, the Commission of the European Union (EU) announced an ambitious package of measures. The goal of the "Green Deal" project: Europe is to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, through lower carbon emissions, environmentally friendly transport, renewable energy, recycling and greener agriculture and forestry.

The aim is to reduce the use of fertilizers by 20 percent and pesticides by 50 percent, to cultivate a quarter of the agricultural area organically by 2030 and to stop the decline of pollinators such as bees. There are also plans to plant three billion trees and allow 25,000 kilometers of rivers to flow freely again.

The EU wants to "show the rest of the world how to be sustainable and competitive," said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission.

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Ecological life insurance

In a guest article for the specialist magazine "Nature", geoecologists working with Richard Fuchs from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology explained how Europe is glossing over its environmental policy. Above all, the import of agricultural products into the EU contributes to the destruction of tropical forests elsewhere.

In doing so, the EU is shifting the problem of land use, also in terms of biodiversity, to the countries of the global south, where biodiversity is being destroyed at a rapid pace. Because the more we Europeans import palm oil products and soybeans in particular, the more we continue to destroy the treasure troves of the world's biological wealth.

The forest is being cleared, especially in the tropics. While forest cover increased by almost 13 million hectares in Europe between 1990 and 2014, an area comparable to that of Greece, countries like Brazil, Argentina and Indonesia lost 11 million hectares of original forest. More than half of this deforestation was related to oilseed production in Brazil and Indonesia. The large contiguous and species-rich primeval forests of these regions of the world are not only decisive as carbon sinks for the containment of climate change, but also harbor the greatest biodiversity.

But we have been destroying this ecological life insurance for humanity unchecked for decades, also due to the increasing demand for millions of tons of crops and meat that come to Europe year after year.

Only China imports more agricultural products. In the past year alone, Europe bought a fifth of the vegetable products (118 megatons) and still four * megatons of the meat and dairy products that are consumed within the borders elsewhere in the world.

[* Note: The number was changed on 6.1.2020 due to a subsequent correction of the specialist article source]

Soy and palm oil together make up half of all plant imports in the EU. 30 percent of palm oil and 47 percent of soy come from Brazil, followed by Argentina and Indonesia.

More than a third of the total deforestation that has taken place in global crop trade since 1990 is linked to these EU agricultural imports. Thanks to these imports from countries with less strict environmental laws and hardly sustainable agriculture, we Europeans can practice less intensive agriculture in this country. The fact that countries like Germany are pursuing environmental policy at the expense of other countries was recently impressively shown in the feature film “Ökozid”.

Wrong laurels

Fuchs and colleagues calculate how we export our environmental problems in the areas of agriculture and species protection to the global south. Because the EU trade agreements do not require imports to be produced sustainably. In the past year and a half, the EU has signed agreements with countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States, as well as the South American trading bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreements cover almost half of all imported crops. Further agreements are being negotiated with Australia and New Zealand. However, sustainability is understood very differently in each of these countries.

While the use of pesticides and herbicides as well as genetically modified organisms is strictly regulated or even prohibited in the EU, Argentina, Brazil and Malaysia in particular continue to use many times more poisons and fertilizers. While the EU has recently limited the use of pesticides - such as neonicotinoids, which also kill pollinating insects - it has risen to more than four, five and six kilograms per hectare at eight of its ten most important trading partners: particularly in Brazil, Argentina and Malaysia compared to 3.5 kilograms in the EU.

Since 2016, Brazil has approved 193 pesticides banned in the EU. The application of herbicides, including glyphosate, which is now restricted in the EU, has doubled for some crops in the US over the past decade. The use of fertilizers by the EU's trading partners has increased in a very similar way. In Brazil, for example, consumption has doubled since 1990 to almost 60 kilograms per ton in 2014.

The average of all exporting countries is 34 kilograms per ton of soybeans compared to 13 kilograms in the EU. And while genetically modified organisms have been banned in EU agriculture since 1999, Europe imports genetically modified soy and corn from Brazil, Argentina, the US and Canada.

Meat from freshly cleared forest areas

“The bottom line is that the EU member states are outsourcing environmental damage to other countries, while at the same time receiving the laurels for green politics in their own country”, is the conclusion of the geoecologists working with Fuchs.

The Green Deal will not change this either, as it does not set any targets for foreign trade. Rather, a patchwork of rules and standards - some mandatory, others voluntary - continues to determine the sustainability of agricultural imports into the EU. For example, a directive that was only revised in 2018 stipulates that oilseeds such as soybeans may not come from recently deforested areas. But the directive ignores areas that were cleared before 2008. This means that the EU also considers farms to be "sustainable" that were only created on areas of former primeval forests a little more than a decade ago. In the Brazilian Amazon and the Cerrado, this includes nine million hectares of land that was cleared between 1990 and 2008. The reason: The EU's increasing demand for soy for animal feed and biodiesel, which has doubled over the past three decades.

While we only produce comparatively few oilseeds in Europe with seven percent of the area under cultivation for rapeseed, sunflowers and olives, 90 percent of our imports come from eight countries, but mainly from Brazil. Certificates such as those issued by the European Association of Compound Feed Manufacturers FEFAC are only found in 22 percent of the soybeans used in Europe. Only 13 percent were certified as deforestation-free, according to Fuchs and colleagues in their report.

In addition, beef worth 500 million US dollars is imported into the EU from Brazil every year, mostly supplied by agricultural companies that source meat from freshly cleared forest areas. "Agricultural practices that are restricted in Europe are expressly allowed for imports and are not simply overlooked," the researchers say.

Restrictions on consumption

They recommend that the EU take measures to ensure that the “Green Deal” lives up to its name. This includes a better assessment of the global impact of agricultural trade in terms of sustainability, including a reduction in deforestation and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, it is important to harmonize the environmental and sustainability standards for imports and domestic products and to promote a clear certification and labeling system.

The team around Fuchs is also critical of the production of biodiesel. Among other things, the inclusion of ten percent biofuel in diesel by the end of 2020 was one of the main driving forces behind a two percent increase in soy imports from Brazil last year.

Above all, however, imports would decline if we Europeans consumed less meat and dairy products. In the agricultural sector in particular, the coupling of consumption and environmental degradation is a social challenge, since for decades EU agricultural policy has led to an ever greater dependence on imports from countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

For this reason, too, the authors of the report, who advocate sustainable intensification and new agricultural technologies in the EU, demand that part of the areas abandoned in Europe, such as areas with less biodiversity or non-agricultural use, be returned to agriculture. This could reduce the pressure on the tropics.

This, however, shows a conflict with the demands of nature conservationists and species conservationists who want to renature more areas and place them under protection. Because that is also one of the goals of the Green Deal: to double the area of ​​protected nature in Europe to 30 percent by 2030 in order to preserve the continent's biodiversity.

Evolutionary biologist Matthias Glaubrecht is Professor of Animal Biodiversity at the Center for Natural History at the University of Hamburg. In his book “The End of Evolution. The human being and the destruction of the species ”he describes in detail the facts and findings of the species decline.

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