An independent observer of the Forest Stewartship Council

Veracel: "Sustainable on Paper" thanks to FSCTags: Brazil, Complaints procedures, Plantations, SGS Qualifor, Rainforest Alliance SmartWood

On 13 March 2008, SGS Qualifor awarded an FSC certificate for Veracel's monoculture eucalyptus plantations in Bahia, Brazil. WRM announced that this was FSC's "Death Certificate".

In 2010, two Belgian journalists, Leopold Broers and An-Katrien Lecluyse, spent three months investigating the impact of Veracel's monoculture eucalyptus plantations on local communities. They made a documentary, titled, "Sustainable on Paper", based on interviews carried out in Bahia and Belgium:

Broers and Lecluyse listened not only to the company's point of view, but spent time finding out what local communities think about the project. José Fragoso is leader of the Pataxó community Tiba. The journalists asked him whether Veracel deserves the FSC certificate. "I don't think so," he replied. "The label is only intended to deceive people who don't know about this."

The deception is well illustrated by Sergio Alpio, Veracel's CEO. In 2007, nearly 350 organisations signed a letter to the Forest Stewardship Council, titled, "Arguments to show that Veracel should not receive certification”. Many of the organisations that signed the letter are from Brazil. Nevertheless, in the film Alipio states that, "In one year and a half, Veracel got eight inspection visits for the certification, although normally it should have been two. There were eight inspections, because a couple of international NGOs had doubts."

Broers and Lecluyse wrote an article based on their research in MO* magazine. FSC's response is extremely revealing. FSC has posted six "stakeholder updates" about Veracel on its website:

In other words, ASI found that SGS Qualifor did not conduct the certification process of Veracel in accordance with FSC's rules. FSC suspended SGS Qualifor, but only in Brazil. The fact that SGS Qualifor did not carry out a proper assessment of Veracel does not affect Veracel's certificate in any way whatsoever.

Veracel has now hired Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood to help it continue its deception. In April 2012, Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood announced that Imaflora (which represents Rainforest Alliance in Brazil) would be carrying out a pre-assessment of Veracel in May-June 2012. FSC maintains a searchable database of its certificates here: info.fsc.org. Here's the result of a search for Veracel:

Veracel remains certified, despite three visits from ASI. The Certifying Body has changed from SGS Qualifor to Rainforest Alliance/SmartWood. This is now a "closed dispute", according to FSC.


Veracel was indeed FSC's 'Death Certificate', but as we all know, it hasn't stopped this putrid body from issuing many more certificates that should have consigned it to a quick and final demise...

As far as I can see, the problem is that the FSC is in fact a zombie organisation that has been dead, at least from the neck upwards, for a long time. With the blood-sucking variety of non-living, the remedy is a relatively straightforward stake through the heart. But if anyone has any ideas as to how to get rid of a fully un-dead forest certification organisation, perhaps they can tell us??

One point missing from this is that the forestry industry in Latin America is seeking to genetically engineer eucalyptus trees - as indeed is happening all over the world with GM poplar trees being harvested on a commercial scale in China. GM seems attractive to and is being driven by the forestry industry because it will make the trees grow even faster thus 'hiding' the fact that FSC certification doesn't ensure that supply meets demand. Once any GM tree pollen is 'out there' it can never be got back - and the pollen will spread easily due to the height of the trees. Cross-pollination with wild species could, for example, reduce their nut or fruit crops; weaken their wood structure and leave them open to disease. FSC Certification, if it means anything - should ensure that GM plantations can not be established but I've not seen anything from FSC on this - and believe its an issue that needs urgent attention.

Thanks Ecowitch - There's an article in yesterday's Guardian (http://bit.ly/Wc97O6) that includes an interview with Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of FuturaGene, a company that is carrying out GM tree trials. Here's what he says about FSC:

Hirsch hopes to avoid the GM furore that has accompanied GM foods, with the backing of groups such as WWF and Conservation International, as well as certification bodies such as the Forestry stewardship council (FSC) which has so far refused to certify any GM trees.

"FSC is at the moment is a market barrier. It's very sensitive. There is a growing understanding in the forestry industry that technology is a vital part of plantation forestry sustainability. But we are seeing a change in the certification bodies. FSC now allows forestry companies to look at research into GM trees. We are encouraging dialogue with FSC," Hirsch said.

It will only be a matter of time until FSC accepts GM trees. They always eventually do what the industry wants them to do, and if the certifiers think there is a market in certifying GM plantations, then they will want it too.

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