Stockholm (NordSIP) – In December 2022 the European Union (EU) announced plans for a new regulation on deforestation-free supply chains. This will put the onus on companies selling into the EU to conduct due diligence on their supply chains and be able to demonstrate that they are not directly or indirectly helping to drive deforestation. As well as focusing on producers of palm oil, soy, coffee, cocoa and timber, they may need to sit down and have a chat with Jennifer Aniston. Not to get the scoop on behind-the-scenes Friends gossip, but rather to address the matter of collagen in her capacity as Chief Creative Officer for Vital Proteins.
Spurious benefits and potential environmental harm
A new investigation into the collagen industry has been funded by the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network and carried out by the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), ITV News, Guardian newspaper, and Brazilian media company O Joio e O Trigo. Companies like Nestlé-owned Vital Proteins sell collagen-based products for external and internal use on the basis that they support hair, nail, skin, bone, joint, muscle and ligament health. They even claim that collagen will help the body regenerate what has been lost through the ageing process. Interestingly, all of the stated health benefits of the collagen supplements presented Vital Proteins’ U.S. website are linked to the following “small print:”
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Still, like many homeopathy remedies collagen may have a powerful placebo effect that makes it worthwhile for some people. Perhaps the thought of eventually looking like Jennifer Aniston is enough to boost overall well-being. So, what is the problem with a little bit of celebrity-fuelled homeopathy? Let us return to the Vital Proteins website, which explains that its collagen peptide is: “Derived from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine.” The report newly published by the BIJ and its collaborators explains that much of the collagen sourced by multinational companies can be traced back to farms that are considered responsible for 2,600 km2 of forest loss in Brazil.
Unlike beef, collagen is considered a by-product of the cattle industry and is therefore not subject to the same traceability and certification requirements. This means it would fly under the radar of the UK and EU’s forthcoming deforestation regulation. The investigation found that rather than being a by-product, many Brazilian cattle farms in fact derive significant percentages of their profits from collagen production.
The hard road to nature-positivity
The problem with collagen is symptomatic of the enormous challenge presented by global efforts to transition towards a nature-positive economy. With almost half of the world’s GDP dependent on nature, it is not enough to regulate small numbers of commodities like coffee, beef, palm oil and other obvious deforestation culprits. The regulations must be fit for purpose, and should not have to rely on the hard work of not-for-profit independent investigations to identify loop-holes and discrepancies. Vital Proteins has responded to the investigation’s revelations by committing to taking steps to ensure deforestation-free supply chains by 2025. It has also said that it will cease Amazon region sourcing immediately.
The Laundromat’s specialty is greenwashing and it would never pretend to offer health and beauty advice. However, in the interests of the world’s forests and given Vital Proteins’ small print disclaimer, perhaps leave the collagen supplements to Jennifer and focus on getting plenty of fresh air, exercise and eating a healthy, varied and sustainably-sourced diet instead.