How much hidden soy do you eat?

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When I asked around the office how much soy people ate during a year the answers were along the lines of ‘none’, ‘a little’ or the ‘odd splash of soy sauce or soy milk’. With my perhaps unusual request came several questions of what exactly is soy? And in what forms can one eat or cook with soy?

Only a few vegetarians declared that they use soy, or soya as it is also known, as a direct replacement for meat but that they might buy a couple of 500g bags a year; so ‘not loads’ was the answer. Well, this is simply not the case. In fact, the average EU citizen consumes approximately 61kg of soy every year!

So how is this possible, when most of us may not buy soy as a product itself? Soy is a bean crop that is a good source of protein and so is a valuable food product and is a staple part of many diets around the world. It is commonly used as cooking oil or as a key ingredient in food products like margarine. However, instead of consuming soy directly, we feed most of it to the pigs, chicken, cows and fish that we then eat.

In 2013/14,284 million tonnes of soy was produced of which 75% was used as animal feed

Dry soy plantation over a blue sky with clouds, Barreiras, Brazil © Adriano Gambarini / WWF-BrazilDry soy plantation over a blue sky with clouds, Barreiras, Brazil © Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil

Unbeknown to most of us, soy is found in almost all commercially produced meat or chicken that we eat and is associated with our eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products too.

But what’s the problem?

The main issues with soy are due to where it comes from. Soy grows in biodiversity-rich tropical and temperate regions meaning that it can come at the expense of important habitats such as the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado and the Gran Chaco in South America. These areas are home to many important species that are losing their habitats to satisfy our growing demand for meat products globally. Soybean fields currently occupy the same area as France, Germany and the UK combined but it predicted that this will need to double by 2050, therefore driving further deforestation and habitat loss. Expansion of soy into these areas also adversely affects people, the global climate, water reserves and soil quality. Our infographic highlights all these issues and more.

Aerial view of the Cerrado and soy monoculture © Adriano Gambarini / WWF-BrazilAerial view of the Cerrado and soy monoculture © Adriano Gambarini / WWF-Brazil

It’s not all bad news though

There are solutions to the soy problem. Several multi-stakeholder groups are working to ensure that soy is produced sustainably and does not drive any further deforestation or land conversion. Initiatives like the Roundtable of Responsible Soy (RTRS) and ProTerra have developed standards for responsible soy production that moves soy producers and traders toward responsible and sustainable production that doesn’t harm nature or people. The success of these initiatives, however, relies on the companies that use soy to purchase RTRS or ProTerra certified soy and promote it to their customers through use of the label. So far UK companies are not doing enough!

What can you do?

We would like you to help us encourage the use and purchase of more responsibly produced soy. You can share this infographic on your social media channels to spread the word and inform others how much #HiddenSoy is in the products they buy. More importantly, you can directly tweet some of the companies that use soy in many of their products. Some of these companies are acting already but can do more, whereas others have not yet started their journey of sourcing responsibly produced soy – you can help them feel the pressure to start! At the bottom of the infographic, just select the company you would like to tweet and a suggested tweet will appear for you to use.


Emma Keller is Agricultural Commodities Manager for WWF-UK

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