SAO PAULO, Brazil Brazilian soy crushers and exporters will stop buying soybeans grown in the Amazon basin for the time being, industry groups said Monday, bowing to pressure from activist groups trying to preserve the rain forest.
The moratorium, which will last for two years, will apply to soybeans planted as of October 2006 in newly deforested areas of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Producers (Abiove) and the National Grains Exporters’ Association, “seeks to reconcile environmental conservation with economic development,” the groups said in a joint statement.
Environmental and consumer groups have long complained that the rapid expansion of Brazil’s soy frontier was speeding up the deforestation of the Amazon. Brazil is the world’s second-largest soy producer, behind the United States.
Until now, Brazil’s soy industry had bristled at the suggestion that soy played a role in the destruction of the Amazon, arguing instead that independent loggers and grazers were bigger threats to the rain forest.
But with consumers, especially in Europe, starting to demand proof of origin, Brazilian soy industry leaders said it was time to take action to prevent buyers from turning to rival producers like Argentina and the United States.
“The market is demanding some adjustments in our product,” Abiove president Carlo Lovatelli told Reuters. “We’re going to have to persuade soybean producers to adopt practices that are compatible with this new demand.”
During the moratorium, Brazilian soy industry leaders and large commodity multinationals like Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus will work with the government and non-governmental organizations to come up with strategies to develop the Amazon while preserving the rain forest.
The groups also pledged not to buy soybeans from plantations that use slave labor, a practice that is still common in some parts of Brazil.
Environmental groups hailed the moratorium. Greenpeace, which published a report earlier this year linking soybeans to deforestation, called the initiative an “important step” in the struggle to protect the Amazon.
“This initiative shows that the international soy trade was damaged by negative publicity about the environmental crisis in the world’s largest tropical forest,” it said in a statement.
Greenpeace estimates that more than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of Amazon rain forest have been felled in recent years to plant soybeans. Brazil’s soy industry insists that most of the soybean plantations in the Amazon were planted legally.