Is Soya Bad for the Environment?
Oct 19 2020 Read 526 Times
Soybeans are one of the most commonly grown crops worldwide, with almost 300 million tonnes produced every year. That accounts for around 3% of total global agricultural output and the staple foodstuff helps to feed people and animals the world over. However, recent years have witnessed something of a backlash against this ubiquitous crop due to the deforestation practices and emissions associated with it.
That’s because soybeans are one of the principal reasons why large swathes of the Amazon rainforest are being decimated in Brazil and surrounding countries. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of all soya grown is destined for the animal feed market, meaning it is used to nurture the livestock that are responsible for a significant volume of the methane emissions from agriculture and dairy farming.
The case against
Alongside beef, palm oil, paper and timber, soya is one of the leading contributors to global deforestation. In 2020, Brazil overtook the USA to become the largest exporter of the product worldwide, accounting for 37% of global exports. However, much of the land used to cultivate this crop is found in biodiversity hotspots, such as the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado tropical savannah, meaning trees and other plant life must be cleared to make room for it, thus destroying the habitats of countless animals in the process.
The second major criticism levelled at soya relates to the greenhouse gases produced throughout its life cycle. With a mere 6% of soybeans used to make human food and around 24% going towards the production of soybean oil, a whopping 70% of soybeans are used to make animal feed for sheep, cows and other livestock. Careful monitoring of these methane emissions reveal that they are a chief contributing factor to global warming, since methane is a reported 86 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
As a result, British retail chain Marks & Spencers has taken the decision to remove soybeans from its entire supply chain. According to the clothing, homeware and food store, they have collaborated with the 44 farmers responsible for rearing the cows that produce the milk they sell to ensure they replace soybeans with alternatives such as sugar beat and rapeseed oil. The move, they say, will reduce consumption of soya by around 4,000 tonnes per annum and is part of their dedicated strategy towards curbing deforestation practices.
However, some critics of the decision claim that it does not solve the problem of deforestation at all, but simply transfers it to another crop. “Switching soya for other crops in the animal feed mix and selling meat and dairy at the same or even greater volumes will just shift that land use problem elsewhere,” explained Anna Jones of Greenpeace UK. “Our health, the stability of the climate and the future of the world’s forests depends on us eating less meat and dairy, meaning what supermarkets must urgently do is to begin replacing them with plant-based options.”
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