Soy cultivation is a key driver of deforestation, particularly in Latin America. But while we can easily avoid products such as tofu and soy sauce, it is the foods containing hidden soy products that wreak the most environmental destruction.
“We consume more soy than we realise, but it is the soy that goes into pork, chicken and processed foods not the soy in tofu and sauce that is the real issue,” said WWF’s global soy lead Sandra Mulder. “More than half a kilogram of soy can be going into a kilogram of chicken.”
In its study The Growth of Soy: Impacts and Solutions, WWF highlights how and why the area of land devoted to soy cultivation has risen 10-fold over the past 50 years and is expected to double again by 2050. Some 46 million hectares, an area significantly larger than Germany, is devoted to soy cultivation in Latin America, with much of the expansion being directly carved out of natural areas or displacing other agricultural or pastoral clearing into natural areas.
Of the 270 million tonnes of soy produced in 2012, about three quarters went into animal feed. The link between soy and animal protein consumption is most graphically illustrated with poultry meat, with a 711 per cent increase in production over the 40 years to 2007. Recent research in the Netherlands revealed that an average 575 grams of soy is consumed for each kilo of poultry product produced.
While there is much that governments can do to reduce the negative impacts of soy along the whole soy value chain, consumers can also play an influential role by aligning their consumption of animal proteins with government health recommendations and reducing food waste.
More than 90 per cent of soy production occurs in just six countries – Brazil, the United States, Argentina, China, India and Paraguay – with rapid expansion underway in Uruguay and Bolivia.