From feeding insects to chickens to tracking produce, a range of options aim to curb appetite for soya that harms the environment
Who uses soya and why?
Nearly all soya is used by the farming sector as a livestock feed for chickens, pigs and other animals. The biggest users are chicken producers; soya makes up around a quarter of the diet of birds. It has been the cheapest source of protein poultry available to farmers since the ban on meat and bonemeal after BSE. Soya remains key to producing fast-growing, low-priced chickens.
Can’t they use alternatives to soya?
Alternatives such as lentils or legumes are more expensive and less available to farmers. Some poultry farmers have been experimenting with adding black soldier fly larvae to the diets of their birds, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimating that insects could replace between 25 and 100% of soymeal for chickens. However, at present insects are seen as a supplement, rather than a replacement, for soya.
“[Soya is] our achilles heel. It’s the best pound for pound source of protein so it’s hard to convince farmers to move away from it,” chicken farmer Charles Mears told the Guardian last month.
Soya is a smaller part of the diet of other farmed animals and appears to be easier to replace. For example, dairy farmers supplying M&S recently eliminated their use of soya, replacing it with rapeseed oil and sugar beet.
Is it possible to buy soya that isn’t linked to deforestation?
The vast majority of soya is grown in Argentina, Brazil and the US, which between them account for 80% of global production. Two of those countries – Argentina and Brazil – have serious risks of deforestation in soya production, and also provide most of the soya used by UK farmers. There is a small but growing supply of soya produced in Europe, but it is not yet competitive with producers in the Americas. It is currently more profitable for European farmers to grow alternative crops to soya. The main sources of organic soya are China, India, the US and Russia.
What are retailers doing to eliminate links to deforestation?
Retailers are linked through their supply chains to deforestation because they buy meat and dairy products from UK farmers who use soya. In response to pressure, they have come out with a variety of policies that attempt to limit or eliminate links with deforestation.