As We Soy, So Shall We Reap

I’m beginning to notice a recurring theme in the discussion thread of my last two posts. It appears that some readers are under the impression that plant-based diets are less environmentally-friendly because of the perceived vegetarian/vegan reliance on soy products.

There seems to be a growing movement, promoted by environmentalists themselves, that is against vegan diets, for reasons of environmental sustainability. This trend is encouraged by the strange idea being promoted that vast quantities of soy are required to produce foods for the vegetarian population. In other words, the impression is being created that it is tofu, soy milk and fake meats that are destroying the planet, not animal foods. This scenario paints vegans as being perpetrators of the massive environmental devastation that is, indeed, occurring worldwide as a result of the growing demand for soy.

When examined just a little more closely, it becomes clear that this theory is quite ludicrous. There is no way that the current population of vegetarians and vegans could possibly create such demand for soy. In fact, the disturbing reality that is being revealed about the ecological destruction caused by commercial soy sounds more like something one would associate with… well… the animal industry. The emergence of vast monocultures that are destroying huge tracts of Amazon forest, catastrophic depletion of water and other resources, colossal pesticide usage, enormous reliance on genetic engineering… It sounds like yet another illustration of the callous disregard for the future of our planet for which the animal industry has become infamous.

Feeding cattle and other livestock is the number one use of soy worldwide, and it outweighs the other uses of soy by a long shot.

According to

“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed.  Some two percent of the soybean meal is further processed into soy flours and proteins for food use… Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.”

Of the small percentage of soy being used to feed people, don’t be fooled into believing that the majority of it is used to make meat or milk substitutes to feed vegans and vegetarians. As pointed out by Mary Vance, in The Dark Side of Soy,

“Soy is everywhere in our food supply, as the star in cereals and health-promoting foods and hidden in processed foods. Even if you read every label and avoid cardboard boxes, you are likely to find soy in your supplements and vitamins (look out for vitamin E derived from soy oil), in foods such as canned tuna, soups, sauces, breads, meats (injected under poultry skin), and chocolate, and in pet food and body-care products.”

According to Vance, the reason for the ubiquitous presence of soy is simple:

“These days the industry has discovered ways to use every part of the bean for profit. Soy oil has become the base for most vegetable oils; soy lecithin, the waste product left over after the soybean is processed, is used as an emulsifier; soy flour appears in baked and packaged goods; different forms of processed soy protein are added to everything from animal feed to muscle-building protein powders.”

Soy is grown in vast monocultures, causing massive environmental degradation, wasting huge quantities of water, and destroying wild lands.

From a 2009 article, More Soy, Less Forest – and No Water:

“According to the National Directorate of Forests, Argentina is experiencing the most intense deforestation in its history due to the replacement of forests with soy plantations, and Córdoba is the province where the most devastating environmental damage has occurred.

“Over the past decade, as the output of soy rose steadily, the province lost an average of three percent of its native forests annually. Of the 10 million hectares of forests found in Córdoba a century ago, only 12 percent are left.

“The worst destruction has been seen in the hills and mountains in the region, where only two percent of the native forest cover has survived.”

Naturally, as the forest cover is destroyed in these areas, the rain water, once absorbed by the forested mountains and released throughout the year, now simply pours down the sides of the mountains.

“In the mountainous region known as the Sierras Chicas, where several large towns and small cities are located, water shortages have led to water cuts in the last few months. The La Quebrada dam, which supplies the entire area, is at present only able to meet half of the current level of demand.”

“But Córdoba, Salta and Santiago del Estero are just three of the seven Argentine provinces where the destruction of native forests ‘is most intense’, says a report by the National Directorate of Forests, which warns that around 200,000 hectares of forests are being irrevocably lost every year.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, soy is also one of the crops most commonly produced using genetic modification, which is of serious concern in regards to both health and environmental issues.

According to

“As of 2004, 85 percent of the U.S. soy crop was genetically modified, accounting for some 63.6 million acres of soybeans. Statistics for 2003 indicate that at least 55 percent of soy worldwide is now genetically modified.”

According to another source, “In 1997, about 8% of all soybeans cultivated for the commercial market in the United States were genetically modified. In 2006, the figure was 89%” goes on to state: “Some would like us to believe that … ‘herbicide-tolerant’ soy has led to less need for the herbicide. This is not the case. The use of Roundup and other pesticides and herbicides on genetically modified crops in the U.S. from 2001 through 2003 increased by tens of millions of pounds compared to non-GM conventional agriculture.”

This is bad enough on an environmental level, but what about the health effects of eating foods that are contaminated with genetically modified organisms? For those who are concerned about consuming genetically engineered foods, it would be worth giving some thought to the fact that when these GM soybeans are fed to animals, they end up being eaten by humans, through the animals’ flesh, eggs and milk. What’s even worse, is that once the beans are eaten by animals, there is no way to test for the presence of the GMOs.

According to
“Despite methods that are becoming more and more sensitive, tests have not yet been able to establish a difference in the meat, milk, or eggs of animals depending on the type of feed they are fed. It is impossible to tell if an animal was fed GM soy just by looking at the resulting meat, dairy, or egg products.”

Genetic engineering is a common concern for those who are considering giving up animal products in favor of vegetarian options. With the prevalent misconception that vegetarian diets are necessarily high in soy products, many concerned consumers question whether a vegetarian diet leaves the individual more exposed to genetically engineered ingredients. But companies that make products aimed at consumers who are concerned about food issues (like vegans and vegetarians) tend to market their products accordingly. Vegetarian and vegan products are frequently labeled as being produced using non-GMO soybeans. For that reason, it is far easier to avoid GM soy in products such as soy milk, tofu, and meat analogs, than it is to avoid GM soy in the flesh, eggs or milk of an animal.

As a final point, for those who are under the impression that the answer is to avoid beef, and switch instead to poultry products, consider this from the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association:

“Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed are fed to poultry, about one-quarter is fed to swine, and the rest is used for beef cattle, dairy cattle and petfood.”

Once again, examined from yet another angle, vegan options win out as being more environmentally sustainable. One way or another, the information about the environmental impacts of animal ‘agriculture’ will have to become known. The world stands at a turning point, where we simply can not go on as if our old ways can continue to sustain us. As environmentalist John Grant states in The Green Marketing Manifesto, “our lifestyles need to change beyond recognition.” (Emphasis in original).

The vegan ideal is so clearly an evolution from where we are today. There is no way that its benefits can be reasonably refuted from any angle, because vegan represents a step forward, a step into a way of living that is more suited to the nature of people who care about the suffering of others, and who can empathize with another’s pain.

For those of us who want to secure a future for our species, and perhaps for the planet itself, it is time that we joined together and put our efforts behind the changes that will make the difference we need. Vegan stands at the forefront of this movement for change.

If we want to move forward into a new society, a culture of sustainability that leaves behind the destruction that humanity has wrought on the planet, we must be willing to change ourselves, our ways of thinking, and the ways in which we live, including our eating habits.

This quantum leap may seem unlikely from the perspective we hold today, but it is within this very change that our hope for the future lies. There is nothing hopeful about looking ahead to a future where we are not vastly different from whom we are today. The evolution of our species hangs in the balance. If we are to have a future, the people who inhabit it will not be addicted to the products of exploitation, suffering and environmental destruction. They will not source their food from feedlots, factory farms or slaughterhouses. The people of this future will be kind, compassionate, gentle and just. And yes, however controversial it may be to say so, there is no doubt in my mind that the people of the future will be vegan.

Photographer: Fernando Weberich


colleen p.
colleen p.5 years ago

everyone is guilty, unles they them self run their own farm and do it them self?
one side will take stab at the other, with :"oh yeah well!!!"
"beef destroys the rainforest"
"no palm oil does"
"no growing _____ does"
"but growing _______ is for livestock so..."
"but the timber industry"
"its a by product of the cattle industry"
"what if trees are cut down for paper?to build mega malls?"
"it dosen't matter, the impact is far less than _____"
"pesticides, hebicides! waste, runoff! "
"over grazing ruines soil"
"monocrop farming ruines it"

maybe everything is just the size of it all. everyone wants everything, in the best all the time. so 'these folks here eat only____" or "eat less_______" but are they eating all the time? what if that one person only get so much of x a day or week?"
maybe if people had more education and meal plaining, but it's impossible. nobody has time and money for that. so there is fast food, and resturants for the higher crowd.

we need 3 meals a day? or people train to work on less for the better? we have other things to do in our life than spend most of the day making/finding food. someone else does it
this is what makes a problem?

Vegan Stuff
Past Member 7 years ago

care2 vegan shopping

Clever Pseudonym
Clever Pseudonym7 years ago

I friggin' LOVE soy. I eat plenty of it and have been doing so for years. I don't have breasts, I'm as virile as when I was a teenager, and my energy level, my appearance & my bloodwork are better than they ever were when I ate dead things.

Anti-soy propoganda comes from the factory farm industry. It is pure bull.

Sir Walkadelic F.
Sir Walk F.7 years ago

veganism is a religion.

Tracy T.
Tracy T.7 years ago

I LOVE soy! I eat so much of it. Probably everyday. I started a high soy diet when I found all of the newer products in my supermarket that I fell in love with. Maybe a coincedence but I lost 10 lbs that month and ever since all of my menstral symptoms have dissappeared. (prob due to the estrogen mimic). I was worried that this much soy might be bad for me but some Japanese friends of mine assured me that their parents each just as much as I do and are quite healthy. Even my boyfriend, the "meat-atarian" steals my Veggie-meat. Trust me, it doesnt taste like tofu at all!

Delight S.
Delight S.7 years ago

as a vegetarian who is almost a complete vegan, I have to say that soy makes up 2%or less of my diet. I HATE tofu...I could never get over the texture. I drink almond milk, I eat fresh or lightly steamed veggies, rice, beans,lentils, whole grains, mushrooms (give me a portabello over a steak any day!!) snd very VERY occasionally a commercially produced veggie burger, or veggie crumbles. I prefer to make my own veggie patties, because I can put what I want in MORE mushrooms!! So I have to agree wholeheartedly with your article...I don't think we are part of the "SOY" problem!!!

Dan C.
Dan C.7 years ago

Oh, the irony of adding the qualifier 'militant' to a word that represents peace in so many ways. You might as well say "militant peacenik".

Juan T.
JP T.7 years ago


Very glad you've covered the Soy topic. Only one thing I'd add to your well researched piece above:

15 years ago nearly 100% of Argentina's beef production was grass-fed. Argentina's beef output fed not only the local market (by far the largest per capita beef consumption figure in the world at 70 kg/yr), but also supplied Europe's Hilton Quota and other international channels for high quality beef. Not a single bean of soy was used in this process. Today, because very few have yet made the distinction between feedlot production systems and free range grass fed (something that would presumably put a premium on the latter)... Many of those Argentines that used to grass fatten cattle have switched over to soy for higher returns. This soy is exported to countries that indeed feed it in feedlots and in some instances (the U.S. for example) ban Argentine beef on Hoof & Mouth grounds: An amusing protectionist perversion since feedlots have spawned the actually dangerous phenomena of Mad Cow, E Coli 0157h7, etc.

The point in all this is that by suggesting that free range is no better - you deter people from making a choice that could change things markedly for the better. A more constructive (albeit perhaps less militantly vegan) line would more concisely go against concentrate feeding, feedlots and industrial protein production. Otherwise, your argument is (ironically) the same as Smithfield or Cargill's: Free range is no different.

Dan C.
Dan C.7 years ago


However, when we use sentience as a moral-o-meter, it doesn’t seem absurd at all. Consider the moral importance of allowing anesthesia to be used in painful surgery. We would consider it monstrous to deny a sentient being anesthesia to temporarily ~reduce their sentience~ during the painful surgery. The reason people get more upset when someone kicks a dog than when someone swats a mosquito is two-fold. The biggest reason by far is that people legitimately believe a dog is sentient and a mosquito is not, or at least is not anywhere near as sentient as a dog. The secondary reason is that a mosquito is about to inflict discomfort on the swatter, whereas usually a dog is not causing the kicker sufficient harm to deserve a kick.

Basing moral consideration on sentience alone seems perfectly reasonable because it is perfectly reasonable. It is the logically relevant criterion for moral consideration.

We can use our rationality to see the morally relevant kinship-in-sentience we have with sentient nonhumans. If they don’t reciprocate that moral consideration in any given situation, we are morally justified to defend ourselves ~in that situation~, just as we are when humans don’t reciprocate. But if they are not a threat to us, we should not be a threat to them. If they don’t take harmful action against us, we should not take harmful action against them.

Dan C.
Dan C.7 years ago


Another, much more important fatal flaw of rationality as a criterion for inclusion in the moral community can be shown obvious by using a rationality test (e.g. the IQ test) as a moral-o-meter. Obviously, if rationality is relevant, then the more rationality one possesses, the greater the moral worth of the individual. We could go by degrees, or a cutoff point, or a combination. If we go by degrees, people should take an annual IQ test to determine their moral value in the community. The leading physicists and mathematicians of the world would, of course, be revered as gods and showered with praise, pomp, and glory. Perhaps we might want to enslave and perform painful medical experiments on the stupid people.

Well, it seems that I’m being silly using rationality as a criterion for moral worth. But why does it seem silly? It seems silly (or monstrous, if you take it seriously) to use rationality as a criterion because it is logically irrelevant to moral worth.