Greenpeace has accused supermarket giant Tesco of complicity in deforestation and deliberately-set fires in the Amazon and across Brazil. In response, the supermarket has reiterated its commitment to combating forest clearance, while acknowledging there is "more to do".
The environmental campaigning group has made the allegations in a new film, "Tesco’s burning secret", made in collaboration with Chicken Fruit Studio with music composed and recorded by Reeder.
The film opens with a shot of Tesco's headquarters surrounded by flames alongside the question "Do you know Tesco's burning secret?" The blue dotted line from the supermarket's logo then breaks free to lead the viewer on a behind-the-scenes journey from Tesco's shop front to Brazil's forest floor.
While the supermarket chain maintains it has met its deforestation targets, its meat is not deforestation-free, Greenpeace UK said.
Greenpece said all supermarkets in the UK sell factory-farmed meat (mainly chicken and pork) fed on soya. Tesco buys British chicken and pork from suppliers Moy Park, owned by JBS, which has faced claims of deforestation in the Amazon. Other Moy Park customers include Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, as well as fast-food chains Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s and Pizza Hut.
Greenpeace said it was targeting Tesco on the basis that it is the biggest supermarket in the UK and therefore sells the most meat compared with any other.
Much of deforestation is driven by demand for land for livestock and to grow crops such as soya, which is used in animal feed in the UK, as well as road building and mining.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) warns that the destruction of habitats in places such as the Amazon is one of the leading causes of the loss of nature and drives climate change, as the cleared or burned forests release carbon they would otherwise store.
In June, Greenpeace UK activists protested at Tesco’s annual general meeting, holding giant letters spelling out "Forest crime", calling on the company to stop using Moy Park as a supplier.
A Tesco spokesperson told Campaign: “Clearing forest land for crops must stop – we are committed to fully playing our part to prevent further deforestation. We met our 2020 industry-wide target of certified ‘zero net deforestation’ for our own direct soy sourcing a year early.
“Recognising there is more to do, we have set an additional 2025 target to only source our UK soy from verified zero deforestation regions. Our suppliers meet our zero deforestation standards, and we are working with them to meet our 2025 goal.”
Elena Polisano, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said in response: “Tesco often talks about its plans to buy soya ‘only from deforestation-free areas’ by 2025, but it’s pure greenwash. These areas don’t even exist and talks to establish them collapsed in 2019.
“It also defends its contract with companies owned by the notorious forest-destroyer JBS, claiming it can hold the company to account better as a customer, but that’s not working. JBS recently announced it would accept deforestation in its supply chain for another 14 years.
“With the climate crisis worsening by the day and the Brazilian government intent on weakening environmental legislation, it’s time Tesco took a proper stand. It must drop forest destroyers immediately and reduce the industrial meat sold from its shelves from now.”
Dave Lewis, chief executive of Tesco until last year, acknowledged the need to reduce meat consumption in an opinion piece in the Financial Times in 2020.
According to Greenpeace, Britons eat twice as much meat and dairy as the global average and Tesco uses one-sixth of the UK’s soya – 99% of it in its meat and dairy supply chain.
What’s more, the environmental group argued that the “certification” which Tesco describes can mean “a variety of things, from complete segregation and traceability of sustainably grown soya, down to companies buying credits to ‘offset’ their soya use.”
It alleges: “Credit schemes claim to provide funding to farmers growing soya sustainably, but the actual soya in companies’ supply chains can still come from anywhere, including illegally deforested land. Currently, nearly all of Tesco’s soya is bought under some kind of credit scheme, with only small amounts segregated and properly accounted for.”
Tesco’s own soy policy states the company’s soy footprint for 2020 was 544,902 tonnes, with 86% of that coming from South America.
The company’s online literature states: “Whilst we have ambitious aims, Tesco also recognises that the transition for a global industry like the soy sector cannot happen overnight without huge impacts on individuals, livelihoods and businesses. As a result, we are working closely with many partners including suppliers, NGOs like WWF, advisors and competitors to develop and implement an industry-wide transition plan.”
The vast majority (90%) of the soya imported to Europe is used for animal feed, and two-thirds of the UK’s soya is imported from South America, where it is a leading cause of deforestation.
Lindsey Williams, producer at Chicken Fruit Studio, said of the "Tesco’s burning secret" film: “We are a 'carbon literate' studio (and human beings who live on Earth), so the needless destruction of our climate and planet is an important issue for us. The opportunity to make an animation that has the potential to make a difference was one we couldn’t pass up.
“We used a combination of 3D objects, paper cut-outs, print textures and photographs in a muted palette to reflect the dark subject matter. The camera pans through a series of still moments, capturing each step and focusing on the fact that being a part of this destruction is a conscious choice made by Tesco management.”
This article was first published in Campaign.