By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Some of the world's biggest commodities traders are still fuelling deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia, campaigners said on Thursday, despite warnings in February that their operations were contributing to large-scale forest destruction.
The land - in the Bolivian Amazon and Brazil's savannah - is largely being cleared to grow soy crops for animal feed to help meet the growing global demand for meat.
Activists fear deforestation is accelerating in Brazil's savannah, which stretches from its border with Bolivia to the northeast, and say it needs the same protection as the country's famous rainforest.
U.S.-based campaign group Mighty Earth said in a report that deforestation was continuing at some of the same sites activists had visited in February and then flagged up to traders.
More than 600,000 hectares (1,482,630 acres) of savannah land have been deforested since 2011 in areas where traders including agricultural giants Bunge and Cargill source soy beans, according to Mighty Earth.
The two multinationals, both based in the United States, said they were taking steps to ensure high environmental standards were upheld in their supply chains.
But Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth's CEO, said commodities traders have been giving farmers loans to clear vast forests in Brazil's poor northern savannah region which is considered the latest frontier for large-scale agriculture in the country.
"These trading companies are downplaying their critical role in driving deforestation," Hurowitz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the release of Thursday's report which is based partly on satellite data.
He said their silos were often the only ones in a particular region, giving them a lot of power to set environmental standards for their suppliers in rural areas.
Since their first report in February, Mighty Earth said they had found 60 square km of new deforestation on the farms they visited, and 120 sq km of new planned land clearance.
Trading firms said they were working to improve their supply chains to better protect South America's forests.
Bunge said it had blocked more than 50 farms last year for violating Brazilian laws on deforestation.
Stewart Lindsay, Bunge's vice president for corporate affairs, said in an email that this year the company would begin "satellite monitoring of land use change among identified suppliers".
Bunge is Brazil's largest exporter of agricultural products, according to its website.
Cargill was also named in the report for not doing enough to combat deforestation in its supply chain.
A spokesman for the trading firm said 60 percent of Cargill's soy sourcing in Brazil came from land where growers operate under Brazil's Forest Code and Rural Land Registry (CAR), legislation which mandates property owners preserve tree cover and adhere to other environmental and land use rules.
"We are working to expand the implementation of the CAR with our direct and indirect suppliers," he said.
Fast food chain Burger King, which is accused by Mighty Earth of buying soy from deforested Brazilian land and of falling behind other firms in its environmental record, didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)