Food companies in the UK, including McDonald’s, are urging the government to tighten rules designed to protect rainforests.
Ministers are drafting a new law banning large companies from using products from illegally cleared land.
But companies say the law should apply to all deforestation, be it legal or illegal.
This is because the effect on climate and nature is the same whether the trees are legally felled or not.
The companies wrote a letter to the government on the closing day of the forest protection consultation.
He says: “Limiting action to illegal deforestation would not lead to halting the loss of natural ecosystems, especially when governments have the power to decide what is legal.”
The 21 signatories include including Unilever, Tesco, Lidl, Nando’s, Nestle, convenience food manufacturer Greencore and chicken maker Pilgrim’s Pride.
Currently the government’s plans relate only to large companies like these, but the petitioners say this would allow medium-sized enterprises to continue importing large quantities of raw materials from previously forested land.
They are pushing for a level playing field so that smaller operators don’t get a competitive edge.
The letter represents a turning point for environmental activists.
They have long argued that it is useless for the UK to protect its landscape – as the Prime Minister says he means – if ingredients in food or feed such as beef, cocoa, soy, rubber and palm oil contributed to the destruction. environmental abroad.
Robin Willoughby, of the green group Mighty Earth, said: “The proposed legislation will continue to allow rampant deforestation in hot spots like Indonesia and Brazil (where much of the deforestation is legal).
“With the Amazon ablaze and forests cut down at an alarming rate, Nature does not recognize the difference between legal and illegal deforestation.”
A government spokesman agreed that expanding agriculture should not harm other ecosystems and promised that ministers will explore ways to avoid this “shift” effect.
The spokesperson said fighting illegal logging is the most obvious starting point.
He added: “Our proposed approach is designed to tackle illegal deforestation which accounts for nearly 50% of deforestation globally, but nearly 90% in key biomes, including parts of the Amazon.
“If the existing forest laws in Brazil were applied correctly, experts believe that forest cover would increase by 10%.”
Chris Brown, Asda’s Director of Sustainable Sourcing, said, “We welcome the government’s efforts to date to tackle deforestation.
“But current plans won’t do enough to protect fragile ecosystems.
“We need comprehensive reporting up and down the supply chain, along with incentives for suppliers to move towards more environmentally responsible manufacturing.”
There has been growing dissatisfaction among consumers with products related to illegal deforestation, especially in the Amazon.
According to a recent poll by the environmental group WWF, 67% of UK consumers say they want the government to do more to address the issue.
Around 81% of respondents wanted more transparency on the origins of products imported into the UK.
Fueling these concerns are reports showing that deforestation in the Amazon has increased significantly this year.
Felling of trees and clearing of land, usually for agriculture, are estimated to be responsible for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Although some environmentalists have supported the letter to the government, others say the proposed goals are inadequate.
McDonald’s, for example, has set a 2030 deadline to remove rainforest products from its supply chain – a date critics say is too late.
Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin