Last year’s Amazon fires, most started by cattle ranchers and farmers, showed a clear link between food production and the climate emergency. Scientists say we can’t prevent climate breakdown without radical changes to the way our food is produced, traded and consumed.
But internationally, we are moving in the wrong direction – meat consumption is forecast to rise 76% by 2050, including a doubling in the consumption of poultry. In the UK, we are consuming well above the global average.
Supermarkets don’t know enough about where their soya comes from
In September 2019, Greenpeace challenged 23 food sector companies to show that the soya used in the animal feed in their meat and dairy supply chains was not driving deforestation. We contacted 10 supermarkets, three poultry producers, one food manufacturer and a selection of other high-street brands.
Only nine of these companies disclosed the amount of meat they sold and the volume of soya consumed in their supply chains: Aldi, Co-Op, Costa Coffee, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose. But this doesn’t get them off the hook. All of them admitted lacking even the most basic oversight of their soya supply chains. This includes Tesco, which admitted to using one-sixth of the UK’s soya imports – 99% of it for animal feed.
None were able to demonstrate that they were tracking the full amount of soya consumed as animal feed in their supply chain – instead, they used estimates based on industry averages. This means that no company could demonstrate it was taking meaningful steps to ensure its soya-based animal feed was not contributing to deforestation. At such a crucial time in the climate emergency, this just isn’t good enough.
Soya for chicken feed is one of the worst causes of deforestation
Soya is widely traded and used as animal feed in industrial meat production, making it the second worst driver of global deforestation. It’s a little-known fact that 90% of the soya coming in to the UK is going to feed animals.
Vast areas of South America – precious forests and other ecosystems – have been wiped out to make way for soya plantations. Deforestation is a major cause of climate change due to both direct emissions (including from fires such as those in the Amazon) and reducing the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Chicken is the most popular meat in the UK, it’s our biggest driver of soya imports and its consumption is rising. This rise is being fuelled by companies competing to sell the cheapest chicken – industry reports show a strong correlation between marketing and special offers and increases in chicken sales.
Meeting Britain’s annual demand for soya requires 1.4 million hectares of land – an area larger than Northern Ireland – and huge tracts of forest and savanna in South America are being destroyed to grow the crop. Half of the Cerrado – a vast tropical savanna eco-region of Brazil – has disappeared due to deforestation. Given the clear links between chicken, soya and deforestation, companies have a responsibility to prove the chicken they are selling us is not destroying the world’s forests.
Replacing chicken with plant-based food will help tackle climate change
Soya production has more than doubled since 1997. This is driven by growing demand to supply the factory farms that produce much of the meat and dairy sold by supermarkets and fast food chains – including in the UK.
At the moment, the UK’s dependence on intensive farming locks us into contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests. But the good news is, we already know what the solution is: a drastic reduction in consumption of meat and dairy. In the UK, we will need to replace 70% of the meat and dairy we eat with plant-based foods in the next 10 years to halt and reverse agricultural land expanding into forests.
Individual choices and changes to our diets can be a part of solving the problem. But a systemic problem requires a systemic solution – and we need supermarkets and food companies to get onboard. They shape public attitudes and choice through advertising, pricing and availability.
They can – and must – be part of solving the climate emergency, through replacing the majority of the meat and dairy in their products with healthy, affordable and delicious plant-based food. This is the only way to ensure their business model is compatible with protecting our planet for future generations.