Mythbuster: Is soya worse for the planet than meat?


The truth about soya’s carbon footprint

Every vegan and vegetarian must have heard this one by now: “But soya is destroying the rainforests, so soya is far worse for the planet than meat.”

There is some truth to the first half of this statement, but it isn’t the gotcha that people think it is. Let’s take a look at the facts.

In 2017, 352.6 million tonnes of soybeans were grown on 123.6 million hectares of land and it is linked to deforestation in South American countries such as Brazil. However, these soya beans aren’t grown exclusively to make vegan food such as tofu. In fact, most of them are grown for use as animal feed.

Between 70 and 75% of the soy grown globally is used as feed for pigs, chickens, cows and fish and only 6% is used for food that is directly consumed by humans. The rest is grown for other uses, such as biodiesel.

The WWF looked at how much soy is needed to produce popular meat products. They found that 100g of chicken requires 109g of soya, 100g of pork needs 51g of soya, 1 egg (55g) requires 35g of soya and 25g of soya feed is needed to produce 100g of cheese.  

Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that a meat and dairy diet is better for the rainforests than eating soya because so much soya feed is needed to produce the meat, milk and eggs.

The carbon footprint of meat is also far higher than that of soya, with beef producing up to 105kg of Co2e per 100g and tofu creating less than 3.5kg.

And here’s another point – many vegetarian brands use sustainable soya, much of which is grown in Canada and Europe, far away from the rainforests. Tofu makers Clearspot source their soya from Canada and Italy and Taifun use beans grown in Austria, Germany and France.

Cauldron uses organic soybeans that are certified by the Proterra Foundation and Vivera use organic soya from France, North America and China in their products.

Alpro soya milk also use sustainable soy, with 60% of beans grown in France, the Netherlands and Belgium and the rest in Canada. The soya from Canada is transported by sea for a lower carbon footprint.

So next time someone tells you that tofu is bad for the rainforests, you can politely point out that most of that soya is actually used for animal feed and that much of the soya in plant-based diets is produced sustainably elsewhere.


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