WWF: how many forest is there in what we eat and wear?

From coffee to steak, from bresaola to shoes, what we eat and wear represents a danger to biodiversity

© Juan Pratginestos WWF

There is too much nature sacrificed in many consumer products, some of which are typically Italian, such as coffee: 80% of the world’s deforestation is, in fact, due to the need to make room for pastures for the production of meat. , to the soybean and palm oil plantations required by Western countries that consume and waste more and more. Europe’s consumption is responsible for 10% of global deforestation, which occurs mainly outside the EU borders, and our country has a high responsibility since we are a traditional importer of raw materials from forests: not only timber, but also meat, soy, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, leather, and more, all products with a high ‘content’ of deforestation.

This was revealed in the new WWF report entitled “How much forest have you eaten, used or worn today?” where the examples of deforestation ’embedded’ in many consumer goods highlight the hidden links between the impressive loss of forests and our daily actions: in the last 30 years, 420 million hectares of land have been deforested, roughly the size of the entire European Union, most of them in tropical areas. Approximately 10 million hectares are lost each year due to the conversion of forests to agricultural land. An enormous damage both for biodiversity, given that about 80% of the terrestrial plant and animal species of the planet live in forests, and for the dramatic effects on climate change: the loss of forests amplifies the climate crisis due to the very high quantities of carbon that are released and due to the loss of regulation of the climate system as a whole.


In the world, about 2.5 billion cups of coffee are drunk a day and Italy is the country that symbolizes this daily ritual. Europe (which accounts for 33% of global coffee consumption) is the largest coffee market in the world. The fact that coffee production could become an increasingly important driver of deforestation in the coming decades is due to increased demand and the growing impact of climate change: coffee production will have to triple by 2050 to meet global demand, but still today 60% of the area suitable for growing coffee is covered by forests. In fact, if coffee was once grown on the edge of forest environments, today trees are cut down to produce the precious beans in huge areas exposed to the sun. All this will have serious consequences for species already at risk of extinction, such as the Sumatran tiger: Indonesia, where this species lives, is in fact one of the largest exporters of coffee (along with Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam and Brazil). Furthermore, due to climate change, 50% of coffee-growing areas will be unsuitable for production by 2050 pushing crops to higher altitudes, threatening the disappearance of precious forests. The future of these forests and species also weighs on Italy’s shoulders, given that we consume an average of 6 kg of coffee each year. The appeal of the WWF, to reduce our impacts, is to prefer coffee from certified companies, even if at the moment only 20% of farms are certified.


Since 1950, soybean production has globally increased 15 times due to the increase in the consumption of meat and animal derivatives. 97% of soybean meal ends up in animal feed. This is why soy is the second largest deforestation driver in the world after cattle farming. Brazil is the largest producer of soybeans in the world. One fifth of the soybeans imported into the EU from Brazil (produced in the Amazon and Cerrado) is linked to illegal deforestation. Globally, soybean cultivation is devastating some of the most precious ecosystems: Amazonia, Cerrado, Gran Chaco and Pantanal where more than 10% of all known animal species live, including the jaguar. In fact, the European demand for soy is satisfied 95% by imports: the consumption of soy by a European is 61 kg per year, of which more than 90% comes indirectly from animal feed to obtain meat, fish, eggs, yogurt, etc. Italy is the 3rd largest importer of soybean meal into the EU: Italian soybean imports have led to an average deforestation of around 16,000 hectares per year. It is therefore important to become aware consumers by reducing the consumption of meat.


Another suspect of deforestation is a typical product of our gastronomy: bresaola. Not everyone knows that in Brazil one of the causes of deforestation is linked to the breeding of the zebu, a species similar to our cattle: frozen legs of this bovid can become bresaola. It is not a scam (the production disciplinary allows it to date) but it is certainly not known that to produce bresaola, sometimes even in possession of the IGP certification, any type of bovine can be used, even the one that has nothing Italian it is raised by destroying the Amazon rainforest.
Let us remember that the EU is the largest import / export market for agri-food products. 36% of crops and products of animal origin associated with deforestation in the countries of origin are destined for the European market and 60% of these come from Brazil while 25% from Indonesia.


The leather used to make shoes, belts and bags is a by-product of the beef industry and as such at risk of deforestation. In Italy, home of designer shoes and bags, the predominant raw material is leather, in particular the bovine one which accounts for 70% of the raw material used by the tanning industry. Brazil exports 80% of the bovine hides it produces (40.7 million hides in ten years). The EU buys 80,500 tons of leather from Brazil – about 20% of global imports – most of which comes from illegally deforested areas. To stop this destruction, the WWF indicates the purchase of leather products manufactured by companies that invest in transparent and forest-friendly supply chains, or better still, the use of alternative materials.

“We must stop the process of destroying the most precious forests: today 40% of the Amazon rainforest has already reached the point of no return due to uncontrolled fires and cuts. Our responsibility as consumers is enormous and the path of certification of consumer products, as well as the reduction of foods within which deforestation is hidden, starting with beef and soy for feed, are the only way forward- said Isabella Pratesi, conservation director of WWF Italy -. An environmental disaster can be hidden inside the soy grain or coffee bean. It is good to become aware of this immediately, considering that many of our diseases originate from the destruction of ecosystems, primarily forest ones, and from the unsustainable management of natural resources ”.