Soya has been a product widely used by vegetarians and wholefood enthusiasts. Soya beans are so versatile that they have become a staple meat alternative. They can be processed and form the basis of a number of food such as soya milk, tofu, flour and meat-free burgers and sausages.
However, the mass production of soya has received fierce criticism for its role in the deforestation of South America.
Soya and deforestation
The two major soya-producing countries are the US and Brazil, which together produce about 64% of the world’s supply. Soya is Brazil’s biggest export by value, and there have long been serious concerns about the extent to which it is behind deforestation in the Amazon and surrounding regions.
This absolutely does not mean that vegetarians are the ones responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. Most of the world's soya is fed to livestock, only 6% of it is eaten directly by humans. See our meat-free guide for figures on the amount of “embedded soya” in animal products. Eating soya is vastly better for the environment than eating animal products, across many variables. A vegan diet is responsible for about half the greenhouse gas emissions of an omnivorous one.
There has been a ‘soya moratorium’ in place in Brazil since 2006. The moratorium is an agreement between the companies who buy nearly all of the soya in Brazil. They agreed not to buy any soya that had been grown on recently deforested land, and to blacklist farmers known to be using slave labour. Verification is done with satellite data. The moratorium was renewed indefinitely in 2016.
The soya moratorium appears to have been successful at preventing soya being grown on freshly deforested land in the Amazon.