Economic, environmental and social impacts of the global soya trade
The pork chops and chickens on European tables begin their lives far away on soybean plantations in Latin America, where the feed for European livestock is harvested. In every link of the new global food chain, agriculture has become more intensive, larger in scale, and more environmentally and socially unsustainable. Good Food World has discussed the soya trade using the findings of a new report.
The international tentacles of the food chain tie deforestation in Brazil and Argentina to factory-farmed livestock in Europe. International trade agreements like the World Trade Organization facilitated the global corporate agri-business network that delivers soybeans and maize from Latin America to giant pig and chicken holdings in Europe and finally to a handful of supermarket chains.The beneficiaries of deregulated trade in agricultural goods have been the international grain traders, the investors in Latin American plantations, and the largest meatpacking and supermarket chains.
Some of the highlights:
(1) Soy exports from Latin America fueled deforestation. Four-fifths of EU soymeal imports came from Brazil and Argentina. The demand for more soybeans has been a key catalyst for clearing 44.5 million acres of forests in these two countries.
(2) Powerful soy interests drive small farmers off the land. Soybean plantations in Argentina and Brazil average about 1,000 hectares, but can be between 10,000 and 50,000 hectares. These large farms concentrate the land in the hands of a cadre of powerful investors and landowners, hurting indigenous farmers. There have even been reported cases of exploitation and enslavement of soy workers in Brazil.
(3) Industrial soy plantations feed European livestock genetically modified (GM) feed. In 2009, Brazil and Argentina were the second- and third-largest cultivators of GM crops (herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant engineered seeds), growing 42.7 million hectares of GM soybeans, maize and cotton combined.