Tuesday, 10 October 2006

more about Soya beans and wildlife

July 26, 2006 - By Reuters
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Brazilian soy crushers and exporters will stop buying soybeans grown in the Amazon basin for the time being, industry groups said Monday, bowing to pressure from activist groups trying to preserve the rain forest.

The moratorium, which will last for two years, will apply to soybeans planted as of October 2006 in newly deforested areas of the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest.

I wrote about soya beans in March, and in July I flew along the border between Brazil and Paraguay again, so the report from Reuters came as good news. But it is certainly not enough. All that will happen is that demand for Soya beans will shift to Argentina and Paraguay and other countries. It may not be Amazon rainforests that will be threatened, but Chaco and other equally important habitats (but less glamorous, in the public eye) will be ploughed up and destroyed. As so often is the case, we are missing the main point. The main point is that not only are there too many people, there are too many people in the affluent north, demanding more and more resources -- such as soya beans for cattle feed.

In 1961 Brazil produced just over a quarter of a million metric tonnes of Soya bean, but by 2005 was producing over 50 million metric tonnes. In the same period the US production had gone from 18 million to over 82 million tonnes, and Argentina, which had an insignificant production in 1961, was producing over 38 million tonnes. So the real culprit is the increased demand for Soya. And the real question is why does the world suddenly need so much? Unless the demand for Soya is curtailed more and more lands, such as the Gran Chaco of Paraguay, the Pampas of Argentina, and other relatively arid, fragile habitats will be lost to Soya. The paradoxical fact is that Soya features in so many 'healthy alternative' foods. And if one suggests that Soya may not be environmentally friendly, the response is often 'But I don't eat/drink Soya from Brazil/rainforest areas' - ignoring the fact that this simply shifts the demand, and someone else will still be consuming that Soya. And while the argument that soya is used as cattle feed is a valid criticism, if it is organic soya, it can be used to feed organic cattle. The unpalatable fact is that until we reduce the overall demand for Soya, huge areas of the natural world will continue to be gobbled up. It comes back to the fact that eating locally is the best way of thinking globally, as I wrote back in March.

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