Meat-free MAY/JUNE 2016 ethicalconsumer.org
Soya’s role in the deforestation of South America Alongside logging and cattle ranching, soya production has a history of being linked to South American deforestation, particularly in Brazil, which is one of the biggest exporting countries.
This absolutely does not mean that vegetarians eating tofu have ever been a leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. Most of the world’s soya is fed to animals; only 6% of it is eaten directly by people.
Yet it is still sensible to be concerned about where the soya in your veggie burger comes from.
If it is grown well, soya should be an environmentalist’s best friend. It produces more protein per land area than any other major crop. It grows particularly well in tropical climates, which is why so much is grown in South America, but Brazil has enough former pasture or abandoned land to double the amount of farmland without harming a single leaf on a single tree.1 The issue is making sure that this happens.
Brazil’s success story There is good news, as Brazil has managed to vastly reduce deforestation over the past decade. The rate at which the Amazon is being cut down is now 70% lower than it was ten years ago. As a result, it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country on earth.2
Most analysts put this achievement down to a political shift within Brazil. A big part of the story is the moderately left wing government that has been in power since 2003. It has made some effort to tackle deforestation: expanding protected areas, shutting down illegal logging operations, and throwing those responsible in jail. Another part is that the soya and beef industries have both agreed to moratoriums on the buying of produce grown on deforested land – more on that below.3
However, there is also bad news. In spite of this success, the Amazon is still being lost at about 6000 km2 a year – an area about the size of Norfolk. Furthermore, the rate of deforestation has started rising again in the last couple of years. And some of the things that have contributed to the reduction in deforestation are now under threat.
Seven-foot-tall Greenpeace chickens invade McDonald’s outlets after a report revealed the chickens used in their products were fed on soya that comes from the Amazon.
The Brazilian Soy Moratorium The Brazilian Soy Moratorium was established in 2006, after a huge global campaign by Greenpeace. Two huge industry groups agreed that none of their members would buy any soya grown on recently deforested land. And this was a massive deal as these groups – representing traders like Cargill, ADM (Pura and Crisp ‘n’ Dry brands in cooking oil guide, page 30)and Bunge – control 90% of the Brazilian soya market.
The moratorium was initially a shortterm agreement, but it has now been renewed eight times. Farms violating it are identified using satellite data from the Brazilian Space Agency.
The moratorium has been an incredible success, which is especially impressive given that the price of soya has been high over the period. One recent academic study found:
“Between 2001 and 2006, prior to the moratorium, soybean fields in the Brazilian Amazon expanded by 1 million hectares, contributing to record deforestation rates. By 2014, after eight years of the moratorium, almost no additional forest was cleared to grow new soy.”4
Inevitably, there are some problems. One problem is that the moratorium only covers the Brazilian Amazon, and deforestation for soya has continued in other places such as Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil’s Cerrado forests.
But the biggest problem with the moratorium is that it is currently set to end in May 2016. Sadly, there appears to be consensus that the deal will end but the reasons for this remain opaque to us.
Soy certification schemes As well as the moratorium, there are two main certification schemes that are active in South American soya: The Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and ProTerra. They both started about the same time as the moratorium. A decade on, their most glaring feature is how much less successful they have been than the moratorium.
The schemes both demand that soya meets basic environmental and labour standards. The ProTerra scheme differs in that the soya must be non-GM, and also, when you buy a bit of ProTerra certified soya, it is guaranteed to be the same bit that received the certification. The Roundtable allows some certification r eenpeace
Jiri Rezac / G