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Very Little Soy is Actually Sustainably Produced

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment

While other commodity crops have much higher sustainable certification levels, only three percent of the world's soy supply is certified sustainable, according to a new paper by KPMG International, titled A Roadmap to Responsible Soy. By contrast, 50 percent of non-farmed whitefish is certified, 16 percent of coffee, and 14 percent of global palm oil production. The paper is part of KPMG's Sustainable Insight Series.

Soy is a valuable crop and yields more protein per hectare than most other crops. Soy demand has increased by around 70 percent in the last 10 years. However, as soy production increases, its environmental and social impacts also increase. These impacts include deforestation in the Amazon and cases of poor working conditions in India and China. In Brazil, an area roughly equivalent to South Korea, 10 million hectares, was brought into soy production between 2000 and 2010, a 73 percent growth rate. It is estimated that up to half of it may have been deforested. Brazil and Argentina account for almost half of global soybean production.

The paper identifies four key barriers that are preventing certified soy production from growing:

  • Weak market demand for certified soy
  • Variable availability of certified soy
  • Fragmentation of the certification landscape
  • The cost of certification for soy farmers

Growing demand for GMO labeling might lead to a growing demand for certified soy

Why is there such weak market demand for certified soy? One of the reasons the report gives is that since most of the soy for the U.S. market is grown domestically there are less environmental and social issues. However, there is one potential driver in the U.S. for certified soy, which the report doesn't touch upon: the increasing demand for organics, or for genetically modified (GMO) food products to be labeled. A number of states have GMO labeling bills pending, and one state, Connecticut, recently passed a labeling bill. Most of the soy grown in the U.S. is GMO.

Although the report points out that soy can often be a hidden ingredient, there is a growing demand for products where soy is the main ingredient such as mock meats (think meatless burger patties). You can now find them at virtually any grocery store. That is something the report doesn't mention. One of the reasons for the growing popularity of mock meats is the increasing awareness of the health and environmental concerns of meat consumption. See, for example, the growing popularity of Meatless Mondays. Burger King, a profoundly pro-meat place if there ever was one, promotes Meatless Mondays and even tweets about it. If the trend to eat less meat continues alongside the trend for GMO labeling, there will eventually be more of a market demand for certified soy in the U.S.

Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy for The Cornucopia Institute, recommends Organic certification. She told TriplePundit, "Cornucopia considers organic to be the best certification scheme for any food, including soy. Unlike any other existing certification program, the organic label prohibits genetically engineered organisms (GMOs), toxic pesticides and herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, toxic solvents in processing, etc."

Key actions recommended by KPMG

The report recommends key actions to increase sustainable certification of soy, which include:
  • Increased commitment to certification by end users of soy including major food and retail brands
  • Greater collaboration between the many and various certification schemes to align their assessment criteria and processes, and improve mutual recognition
  • Financial support from soy processors to assist farmers in funding the up-front costs of certification
  • Greater demand from banks for certification as a pre-condition to providing finance to companies in the soy supply chain
  • More financial incentives for certification to be provided by governments, for example through their tax systems
Photo: Wikipedia


Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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