Soybeans may soon need sustainability certification

Canadian sector urged to ponder such a program as EU moves toward requiring proof of sustainable production

Canadian soybean growers may soon need sustainability certification if they want to sell into the European feed market.

Europe is edging toward a sustainability requirement for imported soybeans.

“The European Commission is pushing the feed manufacturers, in Europe, very forcefully to increase the amount of sustainably produced soybeans going into the feed market,” said Ron Davidson, executive director of Soy Canada.

For now, Canada’s soybean sector doesn’t have a sustainability program. But some type of program, perhaps a certification process, could be close.

“Eventually we’re going to have to do it. It’s just a matter of when,” Davidson said from his home office in Ottawa. “I would like it to be soon.”

America’s soybean industry is ahead of Canada, when it comes to sustainability programs. In January the United Soybean Board announced a pilot program called Sustainably Grown U.S. Soy.

The Soybean Board has teamed up with DuPont and Soylent, which makes soy drinks, bars and protein powders. The two companies will put the sustainable soy label on their products.

In a news release, the Soybean Board said products with the label will meet the following requirements:

  • Grown in the United States.
  • Are compliant with all U.S. environmental regulations.
  • Protect highly erodible soils and wetlands.
  • Were grown on family farms with responsible labour practices.

The label is not a high hurdle for U.S. growers, Davidson said.

If a farmer follows conservation laws and regulations, “then you more or less qualify,” he said.

“Fundamentally, it’s promoting what they already do.”

Canada’s grain industry has been developing a voluntary code of practice for farmers called Responsible Grain. The code would apply to a farm, not a specific commodity.

It will help “farmers to demonstrate their care and commitment to the environment,” the Responsible Grain website says.

However, Canada may need a more rigorous approach to satisfy the Europeans.

There are higher levels of sustainability for soy in America, like the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Protocol, which includes farm audits by an independent third party.

Such certification is necessary to sell soybeans into the European biofuel market. Canada’s soy sector is looking at certification but it’s lagging behind the canola industry.

Cargill, Viterra and G3 are already working with canola growers so they meet the EU standards for biofuel production.

The main challenge of certification is cost, Davidson said.

“It’s not so much what we’re going to have to do differently (at the farm) yet; it’s more about the audit,” he said.

“There is some production and paperwork issue… (but) audits cost money. The issue is, who is going to pay for these expenses?”

South American countries do have sustainability programs for soybeans and the U.S. is moving ahead. So eventually, Canada will need something comparable.

It may soon be table stakes in Europe and elsewhere.

“Today, we’re still OK,” Davidson said. “(But) the driver is really (about) maintaining your (market) access.”

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