The UK could cut its dependency on imported soya in half by encouraging farmers to switch to home-grown alternative protein crops like oilseed rape meal, lupin, sunflower, linseed, beans and peas.
More than one million tonnes of soya is imported every year to feed animals in the pig, poultry and dairy sectors with 98 per cent of this coming from South America - where studies have linked the expanding number of soy plantations to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest - as well as the grassland regions of the Brazilian Cerrado, the Atlantic forest and the Chacos region.
However, an analysis by the Royal Agricultural College (RAC), commissioned by Friends of the Earth, estimated that replacing 50 per cent of imported soya with home-grown alternatives would be 'relatively straightforward' and require around 8 per cent of the currently available arable land.
The RAC says extensive livestock systems used to rear cows and sheep could easily switch to higher proportions of forage and silage feed. It may be harder, says the RAC, to cut out soy imports in the intensive chicken and pig sectors but that a 'major reduction' was achievable by mixing soya with UK-grown alternatives, high in protein, such as field beans and peas.
In interviews with the feed industry and farming sector, the RAC found that the main obstacles were the lack of incentives to grow alternative crops and the relatively low price of imported soya. Advice to farmers on growing or mixing alternative feeds was also poor, while feed suppliers said a variety of feed crops would complicate the supply chain, since additional storage would be required for a mix of crops.
Friends of the Earth said funds from the Common Agricultural Programme (CAP) should be used to incentivise farmers to grow alternative protein crops and reduce the growing dependence on imports. It also urged retailers to publicise and label soya-free meat and dairy produce to consumers.
'Many people choose British milk and meat without realising that the animals in our farms munch on feed produced by destroying wildlife and rainforests in South America.
'Animals should be born, bred and fed British – but pressure from supermarkets and biased EU subsidies force farmers to rely on damaging imports,' said senior food campaigner Sandra Bell.
Friends of the Earth report in full
How Cargill is feeding Europe's meat demands at the expense of the Amazon
Europe's demand for cheap meat is been fed by an increasing demand for soya feed from the Amazon but it comes at a cost - deforestation
Biomass Britain: do fields of energy crops spell an end to grazing livestock?
A new vision to replace our grazing land with energy crops will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but many are unwilling to embrace its suggestions for our future diet and countryside
Killing fields: the true cost of Europe's cheap meat
Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence
Brazilian GM crop surge reported
Brazil becomes second biggest biotech grower after the US as industry predicts big increases in GM soybean, maize and cotton production in 2010
Cattle ranching biggest driver of Amazon deforestation
Cattle ranchers bigger culprits in Amazon deforestation than soy farmers, new NGO study shows