The problem isn’t soya itself. It is the amount of soya that is grown to feed farmed animals that is driving the environmental damage. Yes, that’s right – farmed animals, and by extension the people who eat them – consume 70 per cent of the world’s soya harvest.
This goes to the heart of the sustainability issues with meat consumption. Many more crops are required to feed to farmed animals than if we ate the plants themselves. In fact, producing protein from chicken requires three times as much land as protein from soyabeans, while pork needs nine times the amount of land, and beef a whopping, shocking 32 times as much.
Because the available farmland is not sufficient to grow the soya and other feedstuffs that the 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.
A third of the world’s cereal crop is already being fed to farmed animals and this may rise to around half by 2050. More people will starve as a result because, according to George Monbiot, ‘the poor rely mainly on grain for their subsistence, and diverting it to livestock raises the price’. But cutting out meat has a direct and positive influence on all these issues.
Soya is not the problem. Trying to grow enough soya to feed billions of farmed animals is. So, go right ahead and enjoy your soymilk and your tofu scramble, because you will never consume as much soya as omnivores do when they eat farmed animals.