The humble soybean — it’s everyone’s favorite meat-alternative, the key ingredient in tasty tofu and sublime soy milk. But, as it turns out, soy is all sunshine and roses. You might not realize this, but soy is causing havoc around the world, and we’re about to tell you why!
So, What’s The Problem?
It’s true, soy can be a healthy source of protein and fiber if you follow a vegan diet, although there are those who disagree. But, that’s not really the problem – we humans only consume a small percentage of the world’s soy production in the form of soy milk, soy cheese and tofu. The rest is what we should be paying more attention to.
More and more commercial food companies are using soy as filler for their products, which means that you’re probably eating large amounts of soy on a regular basis without even knowing it. Soy can be found in chocolate bars, processed foods, vegetable oils (we primarily use soybean oil as common table oil), bread, canned soups and salad dressings. It’s also found in more obvious places such as soy sauce and soy-based protein powders. Check the ingredients – you’ll often find soy listed on the label as soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
Soy isn’t only found in the food that you eat; soy is commonly used as an ingredient in pet food and beauty products, and it’s also rising in popularity as a biodiesel component. Biodiesels are supposed to be environmentally-friendly alternatives to regular petroleum diesel, so the growing use of soy (and the environmental cost that involves) is concerning.
But, the biggest use of soy is as the main ingredient in animal feed. Close to 80 percent of the world’s soybean crop is used to feed livestock. It’s a cheap source of protein, used to fatten the animals up before market. So even if they’re not aware of it, most meat-eaters consume a lot of soy indirectly, in the form of meat, eggs, dairy, and farmed fish. For example, producing one kilogram of pork uses 263g of soy, while producing one kilogram of chicken uses 575g. All of this adds up: Europeans consume 61 kg of soy per year, on average, while consuming only 25.4 kg of pork and 18.6 kg of chicken. That’s a staggering amount of soy!
Put all these things together, and it’s no surprise that the demand for soybeans is higher than it’s ever been before; which is why global soy production has doubled since the mid 1990s.
So the problem is this: where are they planting all these soy crops?
The Environmental Impact of Soy Plantations
They’re grown in South America, negatively impacting fragile ecosystems such as the Atlantic Forests, the Brazilian Cerrado, the Chaco and the Amazon Rainforest. These precious natural environments are destroyed to make way for soy plantations. The more the demand for soy grows, the more land is cleared for soy crops (so that production can meet the demand).
And the ecological impacts of this are huge. Deforestation contributes to climate change — it’s responsible for 15 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiversity is lost, as species-rich areas are replaced by monocultures of soy crops. Endangered species lose their unique habitats. Soil quality decreases, thanks to severe soil erosion and agrochemicals which strip nutrients from the land. Water is contaminated when rain washes the fertilizers and pesticides used on the plantations into freshwater sources. The cost of soy list goes on…
Check out this report from the WWF for more info.
Can We Make a Difference?
We all want to help save the environment — whether we’re reducing our carbon footprint by cycling to work, buying eco-friendly chocolate or making our own beauty products. One of the best things we can do as individual consumers is to start consuming responsible soy, but to really make an impact we’ll need to get the larger corporations on board. And that means asking our favorite companies, retailers and manufacturers to source their soy responsibly.
By keeping the cost of soy clearly in your mind, we hope that you will make wise decisions when purchasing soy-containing products. And we hope that you’ve learned something new from this article, too! Let us know your concerns in the comments.