The problem isn’t soy itself. It is the amount of soy 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 soy 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 soy 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.
In the UK, a moderate amount of meat, milk and eggs in the diet means we require 11m hectares of land but a vegan diet requires just 3m. By making the change, we could feed the entire country from within our own borders and cut down on food miles while releasing millions of hectares for our wild animal friends. And this pattern is replicated all over the world.
Soy is not the problem. Trying to grow enough soy to feed billions of farmed animals is. So, go right ahead and enjoy your soy crumble shepherd’s pie and your tofu scramble, because you will never consume as much soy as omnivores do when they eat farmed animals.