Maybe you’ve heard that soy is bad for the environment because forests are being cut down to make room for soy plantations. Vegans are often told by meat-eaters that their soy products are therefore bad (even though as a vegan you can live without soy). Fortunately, if you’re in Europe then you don’t contribute to the removal of any forests and in this blog, we’ll explain why.
Nowadays most soy is grown in South America. Because plantation owners can earn a lot of money from growing it, there are more and more soy plantations being created. To make room for this, rainforests are often destroyed, including unique parts of the Amazon. This is not only bad for the environment, but also for the people and wildlife in the area. Every year 1 to 2 million hectares of rainforest in South America are deforested, leading to the extinction of many rare plants and animals. Deforestation is not only caused by the creation of soy plantations. In the last 30 years, animal farming has been the biggest cause of deforestation. More than 70 percent of this deforestation was to make room for factory farming. After animal agriculture, soy cultivation is the second largest cause of forest felling, which is unfortunately also caused by animal agriculture.
The vast majority of South American soy is grown as an ingredient for animal feed. To grow food for all the livestock in the Netherlands alone, an area the size of roughly 1 million football fields full of soy are grown every year. Most of the soy for livestock comes from South America, as the soy is much cheaper there than in Europe. More than 90% of the soya cultivated in South America is grown purely as animal feed. By eating meat, dairy or eggs, you therefore contribute to deforestation in the Amazon region.
The rest of the soy is used for the most part as biofuel (an estimated 6-7 percent). Ultimately, only about 3-4 percent of the soya cultivation in South America is used for so-called ‘soy products’. For a meat burger, 5 times as much soy is needed as for a soy burger, so if you want to use less soy, you should switch to meat and dairy substitutes.
In addition, meat and dairy substitutes that are for sale in Europe are not made from soy that caused deforestation. Almost all soy in South America is genetically modified soy and is only used in Europe as animal feed. The remaining 3-4 percent of soy for human consumption from South America goes mainly to the United States and a few other countries where genetically modified soy is used in products for human consumption. In Europe, it’s permitted to sell products with genetically modified soy (or other GMO crops), but it’s legally required to state on the packaging that the product contains GMO soy. Because producers know that genetic modification is not exactly popular in Europe, there are barely any products with GMO soy on sale. In any case, we’ve never seen a product that said it contained GMO ingredients in the Netherlands (where we live). There are currently no meat substitutes or plant-based milks containing genetically engineered soy in the Netherlands, so buying them doesn’t contribute to deforestation in South America. In addition, many brands of soy products also work with sustainability certificates and are transparent about where their soy comes from (at Alpro, for example, their soy is mainly grown in Canada and the EU). So you can eat soy products in Europe without worrying about the environmental impact.
Kroes, Hassel & Kuepper, Barbara (2015). Mapping the Soy Supply Chain in Europe
Lima, M.; Skutsch, M. & de Medeiros Costa, G. (2011). “Deforestation and the social impacts of soy for biodiesel: perspectives of farmers in the south Brazilian Amazon”. Ecology and Society, 16(4).
Margulis, Sergio (2003). Causes of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. World Bank Working Paper, No. 22 http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/758171468768828889/pdf/277150PAPER0wbwp0no1022.pdf
Veiga, J.B.; Tourrand, J.F.; Poccard-Chapuis, R. & Piketty, M.G. (2003). Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Rainforest. UN Food and Agriculture Organization. http://www.fao.org/docrep/ARTICLE/WFC/XII/0568-B1.HTM