Land in Latin America exploited by West's demand for meat

| 1st February 2009
In the News
Agricultural expansion on a massive scale in Latin America has directly paralelled the West’s greed for meat. A new report follows the food chain and assesses the damage.

Even if your steak was reared in the UK, there’s a good chance it was fed on food grown on land that was once rainforest.

That’s the take-home message of a new campaign launched by Friends of the Earth, which aims to draw attention to the connection between meat and dairy consumption in Europe and hugely destructive monoculture soya farming in South America – seen here in Mato Grosso State, Brazil.

In an accompanying report, ‘What’s feeding our food?’, the environmental group reveals that the area of land needed to produce the soya for Europe’s livestock farming industry since 1996 is roughly equal to the amount of rainforest that has been cut down in Brazil to make way for plantations since then.

Soya, which accounts for 65 per cent of all animal protein feed in Europe and 40 per cent in the UK, became the feedstock of choice after the BSE crisis of the 1990s banned the use of abattoir wastes in feedlots.

Incentivised by arrangements made through Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy, which reduced import tariffs for animal feed, and by international restrictions on European oilseed farming, soya production rocketed.

Production in Brazil alone – which supplies 78 per cent of the UK’s soybeans – has increased by 170 per cent in the last 15 years.

The huge plantations – most of which are now planted with genetically modified plant varieties – have substantial impacts on climate change, employment and the health of local communities. Not only does the change in land use, from forest or savannah to farmland, release carbon dioxide, but soya plantations also reduce levels of rural employment, requiring on average only one employee per 200 hectares (494 acres).

The report also includes stories from Paraguay and Argentina of crop damage, livestock poisoning and human ill-health (everything from headaches to reproductive abnormalities) or even death from the frequent applications of agrochemicals by tractors or low-fl ying aircraft.

Friends of the Earth has set out an eightpoint plan, calling on government, business and consumers to bring about changes to both agricultural policy and diet. In particular, the report calls for the removal of the subsidies that underpin intensive livestock farming, a switch to livestock breeds which require less protein-rich diets and an immediate review of Europe’s trade strategy to take account of its substantial social and environmental impacts.For more information, visit

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