Beef is actually the largest agricultural driver of deforestation, and soy comes second.1 But most soy – around 75 percent worldwide – is used for livestock feed.2 This means that meat-eaters are indirectly eating most of the soy (as well as all of the beef). In Europe, where less meat is eaten than in America,3 research shows that a typical citizen consumes 61kg of soy, with 57kg of that via the meat that they eat. That figure is likely to be significantly higher for US citizens.
The reason so much soy is needed for farmed animals gets right to the heart of the sustainability issue. Many more crops are required to feed farmed animals than if we ate those crops themselves. Beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas and lentils. Chicken and pork require three times more land and emit three times more greenhouse gas emissions than beans.4
Because the available farmland is not sufficient to grow soy and other feedstuffs that billions of farmed animals require, rainforests and other habitats are cut down in swathes.
The Worldwatch Institute reports that ‘the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease’.5
So, while vegetarians and vegans may be the most visible consumers of soy, they are not the biggest. Most soy is consumed indirectly in the form of chicken, pork, beef and farmed fish as well as eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt.
Eating farmed animals is a key driver of deforestation.
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