The Soy Dilemma

Dan Samson, Energy and Sustainability Consultant, JRP Solutions

Posted on 24 June 2021.

A person smiling for the pictureDescription automatically generated with low confidenceOn the one hand we are being encouraged to move towards a plant-based diet but, on the other hand, the production of soy, a very useful source of non-meat protein, is under scrutiny for having a huge environmental impact. The damaging rate and scale that soy is being produced at today, however, is not because we’re suddenly eating more soy-foods. Far from it.

While we may not eat large quantities of soy directly, the animals we eat, or from which we consume eggs or milk, do. In fact, almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock, especially for beef, chicken, egg and dairy production (milk, cheeses, butter, yogurt, etc).

A picture containing mammal, giraffeDescription automatically generatedSoy is produced on a colossal international scale which has more than doubled over the last two decades.  As demand soars, huge areas of natural land are converted into soy plantations, causing wide-scale deforestation and other devastating knock-on effects – from biodiversity loss and rising carbon emissions to soil erosion and water contamination.  To produce soy, land is being converted from forests, savannahs and grasslands, endangering valuable habitats and species whilst putting at risk traditional, local livelihoods.

The biggest producer of soy is Brazil and the largest importer of soy for animal food is China followed by Europe, which is driving much of the expansion of soybean farming into critical environmental habitats such as the Amazon rainforest.

This issue highlights the need for change as there is nothing wrong with meat and dairy in its itself, but it is the way that it is produced where the issues arise. There are many alternatives to soy-based feeds, such as using pea proteins and other bean mixtures that can be grown worldwide which could replace soy in the livestock feed. Moreover, beef production in particular would have a significantly lower environmental impact if a greater proportion were grass-fed only.

Thankfully, the British Standards Institution (BSI) is currently in the process of developing a ‘Sustainable Red Meat’ standard to try and clear much of the fog that surrounds this topic.

In the meantime, as consumers, we can be more mindful of the environmental impact of the food we consume – knowing that 30% of our food is currently wasted, and thinking of the relationship between soy, animal feed and our diet.  As sustainability and procurement specialists, we need to interrogate our supply chains to ensure we understand the environmental impact of all our purchases and take action to reduce it where we can.

If you would like to speak to one of JRP’s specialists to explore how we can help you to reduce your organisation’s environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions, please email or call 0800 6127 567.