Few of us are aware of how much soy we eat - because we tend to consume it indirectly. We may not eat large quantities of soy directly, but the animals we eat, or from which we consume eggs or milk, do. In fact, almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock, especially for beef, chicken, egg and dairy production (milk, cheeses, butter, yogurt, etc). Soy oil is used for cooking and can also be found in margarine, chocolate, ice cream or baked goods, as well as in cosmetics or soaps. Soy production has more than doubled over the last two decades.
But the rising demand for soy has come at a cost. To produce soy, land is being converted from forests, savannahs and grasslands, endangering valuable habitats and species whilst putting at risk traditional, local livelihoods. Millions of hectares of important habitat like the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado , the Atlantic Forest, the Gran Chaco and Chiquitano in South America, or the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. are being ploughed up to make room for more soy production. Soy expansion is also increasingly encroaching African Savannahs and Central-Asian natural grasslands.
The biggest producer of soy is Brazil and the largest importer of soy for animal food is China followed by Europe, which is driving much of the expansion of soy. is a striking example of how unsustainable soy production threatens nature. Though the Cerrado has not attracted as much attention as the Amazon, the conservation value of the region is enormous. A vast, forested savannah, it covers nearly a quarter of Brazil’s land area, about the size of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. Today however, over half of the Cerrado’s 100 million hectares of native landscape has been lost largely driven by livestock and soybean farming.
Impact on climate
Soy production generates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Tropical countries like Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay face emissions from deforestation and area conversion.
Soy, soil, water and resource use
Soy is an intensively grown crop, with high demands for resources: particularly energy, water, agrochemicals and soil. Any change from natural vegetation or grazing lands to crops is likely to increase soil erosion and change the hydrological cycle.
Solutions exist but are only possible if businesses take a leading role in transforming the market. Food companies, big retailers, manufacturers, traders and investors have an opportunity and a responsibility to produce and source soy without destroying important habitats and their wildlife.
As consumers, we can be more mindful of the environmental impact of the food we consume – knowing that 30 percent of our food is currently wasted, and thinking of the relationship between soy, animal feed and our diet.
Consumers in high-income countries who drastically reduce food waste in shops, restaurants and at home, and who consume animal protein levels in line with nutritionists’ recommendations, can significantly help reduce the footprint of our global food system.
An integrated approach is required to reduce and eliminate the negative environmental impacts of soy. By working with traders, manufacturers, retailers and financers, we are helping to mainstream the demand for conversion-free soy and halt further deforestation and nature conversion. To achieve this we are establishing and participating in a number of multi-stakeholder alliances which can drive sectoral transformation.
Solving Brazil's land use puzzle: Increasing production and slowing Amazon deforestation
The Chain: Downstream Companies and Investors Push for Deforestation-Free Soy in Brazil; Commodity Traders Remain Quiet
Reuters: Europe says Brazil's move to end soy moratorium threatens $5-billion market
Mongabay series Cerrado
Sustainability gridlock in a global agricultural commodity chain:
Reframing the soy–meat food system - Abstract
Switzerland: soft Commodities Forum members commit to common framework supporting transparent and traceable soy supply chains in Brazil
The Soft Commodities Forum (SCF) members, a global platform for leading soft commodities companies convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), have committed to a common framework for reporting and monitoring progress on transparent and traceable supply chains for soy in Brazil´s Cerrado region.
Saving the Amazon has come at the cost of Cerrado deforestation: a study
Impressive past reductions in the rate of Amazon biome deforestation in Brazil have been counteracted by major increases in deforestation and native vegetation loss in the neighboring Cerrado savanna biome.
SOY DESTRUCTION IN ARGENTINA LEADS STRAIGHT TO OUR DINNER PLATES.Argentina’s Gran Chaco forest is being razed for soya, ending up in Europe as animal feed, and on our plates. It’s the backbone of Argentina’s fragile economy, but has come at a price for the indigenous people who live there
South American soy fed to EU livestock drives Gran Chaco deforestation
European fast food firms and supermarkets often obtain the meat they sell from chickens, pigs, and cows raised in Europe. However, the feed, especially soy, consumed by the livestock often comes from South America, where the Cerrado biome and Gran Chaco ecosystems are rapidly being deforested by soy producers.