Food produced in Britain could be contributing to deforestation and the loss of wildlife overseas, campaigners have warned.
Environmental group WWF has urged the government to prevent companies importing soy, palm oil and other products that have been linked to the loss of forests across the globe.
European consumers, including in the UK, eat around 134.5lb (61kg) of soy a year without realising it, as it is imported and fed to animals such as pigs and chickens reared in the UK.
Palm oil is found in a wide range of foods and some cosmetics and household goods, but its production can be problematic and unsustainable, with vast plantations that replace native forests in southeast Asia being grown to satisfy rising demand.
As part of its “Let’s get deforestation #OffOurPlates” campaign, WWF is calling for lawmakers to set targets to end deforestation and enforce regulations on companies which would ensure their supply chains are not harming nature.
Katie White, WWF executive director of advocacy and campaigns, said: “People don’t want to eat food that’s destroying forests – but deforestation is hidden even in food that appears home-grown.
“Action by individual businesses or consumers isn’t enough.
“We need the UK government to show decisive leadership to take deforestation off our plates with legislation that makes it illegal to import products that contribute to the destruction of forests.”
The soy that is fed to animals mostly comes from South America, where production of the crop has nearly trebled in the last 20 years, WWF warned.
The Amazon is protected from further expansion for soy production by a 2006 ban but other areas with vital ecosystems such as the Cerrado and the Gran Chaco – South America’s second largest forest – are still being exploited, according to Greenpeace investigators.
Meeting Britain’s annual demand for high-protein soya requires 1.5 million hectares of land, an area larger than Northern Ireland. This does not include soy feed that forms part of the environmental footprint of meat imported from other countries.
The food people eat in the UK is linked to the threatened extinction of an estimated 33 species, including jaguars, giant anteaters and three-toed sloths, WWF added.
In a separate report produced by the WWF last month, some of the world’s biggest brands were accused of failing in their commitments to banish unsustainable palm oil from the supply chains of their products.