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Down to Earth

Deforestation: The hidden soy on your plate

It’s the main ingredient in tofu, plant-based milk and veggie burgers. Today the popularity of soy foods is booming, especially among vegetarians. Except meat eaters unwittingly consume a lot of soybean. We take a closer look.

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The World Wildlife Fund estimates that Europeans consume an average of 61 kilos of soy each year. As a matter of fact, soy is used to produce the meat, eggs and dairy products that end up on our dinner tables. Of the 284 million tons of soy produced annually, 75% is used as animal feed. Only 6% is turned directly into food for human consumption. The growing demand for soy is not driven by vegetarians, but by the world’s insatiable appetite for meat.

As a result, more than one million square kilometres of land are now dedicated to growing soy. Most of it comes from South America, where the intensive production of soybean is fuelling deforestation in the Gran Chaco, the continent’s second-largest forest. Certain labels now seek to certify that soy is sustainable and deforestation-free but their impact is limited, as big traders are not required to track the origin of soy. For environmentalists, Europeans must reduce their dependence on soybean imports and turn to locally-grown alternatives. France has set itself an ambitious target: doubling its production in the next three to five years.

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