Europe relies on soy, most of it imported from South America, to meet demand for meat and dairy products. The EU produces less than 1 million tonnes of soy a year, and imports around 35 million tonnes. Demand for soy within the EU uses an area of almost 15 million ha, 13 million ha of which is in South America.
To give some idea of the scale of Europe’s dependence on imported soy, this is equivalent to 90% of Germany’s entire agricultural area. The main European importers of soy are countries with large industrial-scale pig and chicken production.
Under European agricultural policy, tariffs on animal feed are lower than for many other agricultural products, so soy meal is a relatively cheap import. Demand for soy grew following the ban on processed animal proteins in animal feed, such as meat and bone meal, as a result of the mad cow disease outbreak in the 1990s. It has risen further because fishmeal, another potential animal feed, is increasingly used in fish farming.
European soybean imports also surged after the World Trade Organization was formed in 1995, removing many restrictions on international trade. The increase in support for the production of biofuels is also a factor in the soy imports into Europe.