Soy production is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in South America. It causes widespread environmental damage, increases the use of pesticides, contributes to food insecurity, and is associated with violence and human rights abuses amongst local communities and farmers. As Europe is the leading importer of soy from South America, it must be held responsible for the expansion of soy production and the problems it causes.
Soy is a protein rich crop. It is used in large amounts in animal feed, as it is high in energy and means animals get fatter quicker. This reduces the costs of livestock production. As a result, soy is increasingly fed to animals in factory farms, and soy production is on the rise.
Production in South America has more than doubled in the last 15 years. Great swathes of land, previously used for staple food crops, have been given over to soy. Brazil is the world's second largest soy exporter and more than half its soy crops are on land that was previously natural habitat – including rainforest and Cerrado grasslands. Soy expansion has lead to the reduction in area used for the cultivation of rice by 44 percent, and maize by 26 percent.
Soy expansion has devastating impacts on people. It is linked to significant increases in the prices of staple foods. Smallholder farmers and indigenous communities are displaced from their land because of it. This destroys small farms which have traditionally grown a large proportion of the food staples people need. Soy is causing family farms to die out, thus reducing food security.
About 16 percent of the Amazon forests and 60 percent of the Cerrado grasslands have already been lost. It is estimated that a further 10 million hectares of Cerrado could be lost to soy expansion by 2020, and 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest by 2050.
Deforestation accounts for about a quarter of global CO2 emissions.
Friends of the Earth Europe believes that Europe cannot properly tackle climate change without addressing one of the root causes of global deforestation – the consumption of soy and other animal feeds.
With its high per capita use of land and dependence on imports of feeds, the European Union is contributing to climate change and driving up global food prices.
Europe is the largest importer of soymeal in the world, and the second largest importer of soybeans. We use these as a cheap and protein rich animal feed in factory farms across the continent. Much of the soy is from South America. The largest user of soy in the EU is intensive pork farming, followed by poultry farming.
Germany, France and the United Kingdom use the most soy: together they are responsible for 4.5 million hectares of land for soy production to maintain their current diets. People living in Cyprus, Spain and Denmark eat the largest amount of meat and dairy products per capita in the European Union.
Watch our Killing Fields documentary below: