Soy, you & deforestation

What’s the connection between your chicken cutlet and an armadillo? Eggs and a jaguar? A Sunday roast and the loss of forests in Latin America? You may be surprised to learn that one link between your dinner, deforestation and the decline of endangered species is the humble soybean.

Can we break the connection?
 / ©: WWF-UK
Most of us are unaware of just how much soy we consume.
© WWF-UK

BLOG

"...the more I found out about the UK’s reliance on soy, mainly used to feed our farm animals, the more I realised the sad truth about the Cerrado."

► Read the full story on how the Cerrado is being gobbled up at frightening speed [WWF-UK blog]
Most people associate soy with tofu and soy milk. However, only a small portion of soy is consumed directly by humans. In fact, most of the world’s soy crop ends up in feed for poultry, pork, cattle and even farmed fish.

Unbeknownst to most of us, soy is found in almost all commercially produced meat or chicken that we eat.

And unfortunately, the expansion of soy to feed the world’s growing demand for meat often contributes to deforestation and the loss of other valuable ecosystems in Latin America.

What’s happening?

In addition to the general growth in demand for food products, economic development has increased demand for meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit and fats.

To feed a larger, more urban and richer population in the future, food production must increase by 70%.

The major increase in soybean cultivation is a direct response to this growing demand. Soybean meal is the largest source of protein feed in the world, and is generally used in animal feed.

Therefore, most of the world’s soybeans are consumed indirectly by humans through products like meat (chicken, pork and beef), dairy, eggs and farmed fish. People also directly consume soybeans in tofu, soy sauce, meat substitutes and other soy products.

Soybean oil is primarily used as table oil. However, its use for biodiesel production is growing rapidly. Other non-food uses are increasing and include paint, ink, wax, and soy-based foam and plastic products.

Get more facts on soy

The problem

To grow soybeans, vast expanses of land are needed. Production is overtaking huge areas in fragile ecosystems such as the:
  • Brazilian Cerrado (a relatively flat, mixed woodland and savannah area of central Brazil),
  • the Amazon,
  • the Chaco, and
  • the Atlantic Forests of South America.

This threatens wildlife and biodiversity. It also adversely affects people, the global climate, water reserves and soil quality.

In South America, almost 4 million hectares of forests are destroyed every year, 2.6 million of them in Brazil alone. Although this is lower than in the 1990s, it is still far too high and can largely be blamed on heavily soy-dependent livestock farming.

Limiting consumption of animal-based food products, particularly meat, is one thing people can do to help end this devastating trend.

► Find out more about the ecosystems under threat from the soy industry
 / ©: WWF
© WWF
 / ©: Bernd Lammel/WWF
Pigs are often fed on soy grown on agricultural land that has replaced valuable ecosystems.
© Bernd Lammel/WWF

Making the Connection between diet and land footprint – the example of Germany

A study by WWF-Germany analyzed the average meat consumption of Germans and how much land is needed to produce what they eat.
  • 60 kg: Average consumption of meat per person per year
  • 1,030 m2: Land per person required to meet this demand
  • 230 m2 (size of a tennis court): Soy land-use footprint per person
  • 7 million ha: Land needed beyond Germany's border—and most of it in South America—to meet this demand.
Germans eat almost the same amount of meat as they do of potatoes (61 kg of spuds on average). But growing each person’s potatoes takes just 15m2 of land to produce.
 / ©: WWF-Germany
Land footprint of German meat consumption
© WWF-Germany
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Land footprint of a typical German meal
© WWF-Germany

What can you do?

There are solutions to the soy problem. But success will require action from companies that produce, buy and trade soy, governments, investors, civil society groups (like WWF)—and you.

If you want to reduce your impact on the environment and improve your health, changing the way you eat is relatively easy and something you can do every day. You can cut your ecological footprint by eating smart. Eat more fruit, vegetables and cereals—a healthy diet is a sustainable diet.

Health authorities in many countries promote “recommended levels of meat consumption”. For example, the German Society of Nutrition recommends a maximum of 300-600g of meat per week, which is approximately one-third of what Germans currently eat.

As a consumer, you can also ask retailers to source products, including meat, poultry and fish, produced using responsible soy.

See how WWF-UK inspired consumers to push UK retailers to take action on responsible soy

View more presentations from WWF

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