Soybean oil is used as a table oil and, increasingly, as a biofuel. Aside from that, it is a major part of our diet. Humans directly consume only a relatively small proportion of the protein-packed foodstuff in the form of products such as tofu and soy milk. But we do eat a lot of it indirectly. Some 75 percent of soybeans are used for poultry, pork and other animal feed. China is by far the largest consumer. China's soybean imports will hit a record 86 million tons for the year 2016-17. An average European consumes 18.6 kilograms of chicken and 214 eggs in one year, which altogether takes 27.8 kilograms of soy to produce.
In 2012, the world produced around 270 million tons of soy. This will nearly double to 514 million tons by 2050. And that means more land for growing soy - and possibly more deforestation. Ten years ago, environmental group Greenpeace drew global attention to the destruction of vast swaths of the Amazon forest in Brazil from a seemingly unlikely source - soybean plantations. From 2001 to 2006, soybean plantations expanded by 1 million hectares in the Brazilian Amazon, leading to record deforestation rates. The ensuing outcry pushed Brazil to introduce a moratorium, which has drastically cut forest clearance for soybean production over the past 10 years, studies say.
But environmental groups such as WWF say soy plantations are still causing deforestation in Brazil and other Latin American countries. This is threatening wildlife, the global climate, water reserves, soil quality and people, and is causing social unrest. In Paraguay, for instance, small-scale farmers are struggling to uphold their traditional lifestyles in the face of increasing soy monocultures and deforestation. Some 3.5 million hectares of soy fields now stretch across the country.