Eating more pulses and producing 80 per cent less factory-farmed chicken and pork would allow the UK to reduce its reliance on soy with its links to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, according to a new report.
The Soy No More report, produced by sustainable food specialists from The Landworkers’ Alliance, Sustain, Pasture for Life and Hodmedod, modelled three scenarios that would allow the UK to import less soy, which is primarily used to feed pigs and chickens.
It aimed to highlight the “fundamental links between soy production and deforestation”, as well as show how eating more pulses can help reduce demand for soy while also supporting a less intensive pig and poultry farming system.
It comes as part of a growing understanding of how our demand for soy is linked to deforestation of fragile forest ecosystems, including a Wicked Leeks film which met farmers pioneering soy alternatives, earlier this year.
In the new report, researchers modelled three scenarios, including one that took into account current land use in the UK and how it needs to grow crops for both animal feed and human food.
This model found that if people eat more pulses and land is prioritised for growing pulses for humans, there would be more room for farmers to rear pigs and chickens in less intensive systems that don’t require soy feed.
Under this model, the animals could be fed on by-products including heat-treated food waste as well as protein-rich crops that are grown alongside pulses for humans.
“If we want to save the rainforest we need to think seriously about replacing soy in livestock feed,” said Jyoti Fernandez, head of policy and campaigns at LWA.
“The vast majority of the UK’s soy imports goes towards feed for large scale and intensive pig and poultry operations, but what we want to see is a transition away from industrial high-input animal farming and towards smaller and more diverse pig and poultry farms.
“For this to be feasible, we’ll need to start eating less chicken and pork than we currently consume, and we’ll need to start eating more plant-based proteins like peas and beans. But this important dietary change will allow for healthier soils and more resilient farms in the UK – as well as contributing significantly to combatting climate change.”
Farmer Amy Chapple, who raises soy-free pigs at Redwoods Farm in Devon and featured in the Wicked Leeks’ film exploring the topic recently, said: “We feed our pigs on a completely soy-free diet because we want to provide nutritious and sustainably produced food for our customers.
“Since removing soy from our pig feed and replacing it with UK grown peas and beans we’ve seen so many benefits – from the creation of richer pastures which they graze on with cattle, to higher nutrient content in the meat and a more resilient businesses model as we’re not having to rely on large feed suppliers.”
The report, which highlights how soy supply chain certification initiatives will never be effective in halting deforestation, states there is an urgent need to reduce soy demand to take meaningful steps towards climate change mitigation and reversing biodiversity loss.
In addition, because of exposure to price volatility of global commodity markets for animal feed, the report argues that soy-free alternatives could also support a more resilient pig and poultry sector in the UK.
Other models considered by the report included replacing soy in UK pig and poultry feed with home-grown legumes, which would require land given up to this farming to increase by up to 80 per cent. Within a context of increasing competition over land-use in the UK combined with the need to become more self-sufficient in food production, researchers said this is not a realistic option.
The second scenario looked at how to feed chickens and pigs on home-grown legumes without the production of these crops, but found that to do this, we would need to eat 44 per cent less poultry and 41 per cent less pork. This would not leave enough room to increase production of plant-based proteins such as pulses which would then be needed to supplement the loss of protein.
The report was launched at an event in Westminster today (19 June) and includes a range of recommendations for what policymakers could do to help.
What can you do to help?
Eating more beans, lentils and other pulses is easy and affordable. Try these recipes and consider buying dried or in bulk to keep the cost down.
Look for ethical certifications that are supporting low-intensive farming and consider eating less but better quality meat to make budgets stretch. Pasture for Life certifies 100 per cent grass-fed meat, while organic is a guarantee of non-GM animal feed.
A balanced diet is important, but many plants can also be a protein source and can help you reduce reliance on meat in your meals – as well as saving a bit of money! Try these top five high protein veggie recipes.
Spread the word by sharing our film on what is the problem with animal feed?