Quantcast

How Eating Meat Increases Demand for Soybeans and Threatens the Amazon

Food

by 

More and more of the world’s farmlands are being used to grow soybeans. It’s not to meet the needs of tofu, tempeh and miso lovers (though consumption of these has been on the rise) but of meat eaters.

Since the 1960s, soybeans have been cultivated predominantly to produce soybean meal, one part of which can be mixed with four parts of another grain (most often corn) to produce feed for livestock and chickens. This demand for high-quality protein to mix into animal feed is endangering ecosystems like Brazil’s Amazon Basin, home to some of the richest biodiversity of wildlife and fauna in the world and the cerrado, 1.2 million square miles of savannah that is fast being converted into farmlands.

Aerial view of a large soy field eating into the tropical rainforest. Photo credit:
Shutterstock

Soybeans originated in China. The country is the third biggest consumer of soybeans in the world, though—the result of the Chinese government’s 1995 decision to become self-sufficient in wheat production—it now produces far less than needed and relies heavily on imports from the top three soybean producers in the world, the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. As Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes, the U.S. now produces about 80 million tons of soybeans, Brazil, 70 million tons and Argentina, 45 million tons.

In 2011, China produced about 14 million tons of soybeans, the same as it did in 1995. But the country consumed 70 million tons, meaning it imported some 56 million tons from elsewhere. Only about 10 percent of all of these soybeans was eaten as tofu or some other food; the rest were crushed for animal feed and soybean oil.

Indeed, soybeans, as Brown notes, are “far more pervasive in the human diet than the visual evidence would indicate” as they are an ingredient in many processed foods.

The U.S. is the biggest producer and the biggest consumer of soybeans. More land in the country is now devoted to soybean production than to wheat. Brazil and Argentina are at risk of becoming soybean monocultures, as the area they have planted in soybeans exceeds or doubles that used to plant other grains.

In Brazil, the cerrado has been increasingly used for agriculture following the discovery that adding phosphorus and lime could make its soil fertile. The cerrado also now provides more than 70 percent of the country’s beef cattle production. The cerrado remains a key ecological site; besides the Amazon, it feeds into two other major water basins, the Paraguay and São Francisco Rivers. Clearing the cerrado for agricultural and other uses has certainly been detrimental for its ecosystems, Brown writes:

Since 1970, the forested area in the Amazon Basin has shrunk some 19 percent from its 400 million hectares. For the cerrado, it is estimated that roughly half of its original 200 million hectares has been lost. In both cases, soybean expansion has played a significant role.

In Brazil, government initiatives to improve monitoring of deforestation have helped to slow the clearing of land. Environmental groups are also putting the pressure on major soybean buyers to agree to a moratorium in buying soybeans produced on deforested land.

But the rapid rate at which soybean consumption has grown around the world seems likely to continue as demand for meat, milk and eggs continues. In Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere, economic pressure to clear land and convert more of the cerrado for agricultural uses will continue.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Ketura Persellin

Global consumption of beef, lamb and goat is expected to rise by almost 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. But that doesn't mean you need to eat more meat. In fact, recent news from Washington gives you even less confidence in your meat: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of line workers.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kaitlyn Berkheiser

While enjoying an occasional alcoholic beverage is unlikely to harm your health, drinking in excess can have substantial negative effects on your body and well-being.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
MStudioImages / E+ / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Backpacking is an exciting way to explore the wilderness or travel to foreign countries on a budget.

Read More Show Less
Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less