We all get to choose where we do our shopping, and for most of us that basically means choosing from one of the big supermarket chains. But supermarkets have to go shopping too, filling those shelves in the first place. Suppliers in turn need to buy in their ingredients, and so on back through processors and wholesalers to the actual bit of land where our food really comes from.
It can be a long and confusing chain, but we ought to ask more questions about it. There is a link between our grocery choices and deforestation, pollution and environmental degradation in other parts of the world. WWF’s Cerrado campaign highlights the problem by focusing on one particular place – the Brazilian Cerrado savannah, and one product – soya.
Soya is not a product most of us knowingly buy on a regular basis. Unless you’re a fan of soy milk or tofu, you’ll probably encounter it as an additive or a vegetable oil, or through your choices in the meat aisle. Because of its high protein content, cheap soya meal is a critical ingredient in animal feed. Growing demand for meat around the world has made soya something of a booming industry.
If the UK had to grow all its own soya, we’d need an area of land as big as Yorkshire. Instead, we buy it in cheap from places like Brazil, where soya exports have doubled over the past decade. Expanding production means bringing more land into cultivation, and that means pressure on Brazil’s forests.
WWF’s campaign aims to get supermarkets to commit to sourcing soya that has been approved by the Roundtable for Responsible Soy (RTRS), certifying that no native forest was cleared to produce it.
That’s a start of course, but there are plenty of other problems. Even if no new land is opened up, vast areas of industrial monoculture are still devastating for biodiversity. Brazil’s soya farmers are competing for land with the country’s other big export: beef. Without a similar set of standards over beef, certifying soya may have the unintended effect of accelerating deforestation by ranching instead.
You can ask your favourite supermarket to commit to RTRS soy here, but don’t stop there. The bigger issue is the sustainability of the global food network, and the fact that we need Brazilian soy meal to keep us in turkey twizzlers in the first place. Ultimately, the best way to solve the problem is to slow the runaway global demand for meat – something to remember the next time we’re in a supermarket.