Update on Brazil: The Effects of the Soybean and Meat Industries

Update on Brazil: The Effects of the Soybean and Meat Industries

Soybean fields in Brazil

Brazil, the world’s second largest producer and exporter of soybean, and the world’s largest exporter of poultry, reports a 39 percent drop in greenhouse-gas emissions between 2005 and 2010.

However, this “good news” is not all its cracked up to be. For the first time, greenhouse-gas emissions from the agriculture industry make up the largest share of Brazil’s total emissions.

Cattle raising and industrial soybean farming have wreaked havoc on the Amazon and Cerrado. In an effort to stop deforestation, a 2006 moratorium on soybean farming on deforested land has dramatically decreased deforestation rates in the country. This accounts for the 76 percent drop in emissions from deforestation from 2005 to 2010. However, emissions from the agriculture industry increased 5.2 percent from 2005 to 2010 with crop yields growing faster than emissions, indicating an increase in agricultural production and an increasingly potential threat to the environment.

Historically, deforestation in Brazil has been a direct result of cattle raising and industrial soybean farming. In order to increase soybean production and exportation, parts of the Amazon and Cerrado forests have been deforested for farmland. The moratorium helped dramatically decrease deforestation, but the soybean industry has been complicit in indirectly contributing to deforestation. The soybean industry has been using abandoned cattle raising plots to plant and produce soybeans. Cattle ranchers continually burn down the jungle (as it is inexpensive) and plant grass in order to raise cattle. When the land is no longer viable, ranchers typically move on to deforest other parts of the jungle while the soybean industry buys this used land that is easier to cultivate soybean production. And while deforestation has declined over the last few years, Amazon deforestation has increased 5-fold in 2013 compared to 2012, believed to be linked to the soybean industry’s continual “indirect” deforestation.

Additionally, Brazil’s meat production is expected to expand over the next 10 years, which will indubitably contribute to Brazil’s agriculture industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Increasing meat production will also directly increase Brazil’s grain production as soybean (projected to increase 22 percent over the next decade) and other grains are continually used in animal feed.

While the moratorium and overall decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions in Brazil seems positive, when looked at more closely, the soybean industry continues to negatively effect the environment through deforestation, pesticide use, and greenhouse-gas emissions. The effects of increase soybean and meat production have direct links to the environment and while past actions have helped decrease environmental effects, its clear that with continued growth expected, the negative effects will only continue to increase.

Photo courtesy of Dami Izolan/Flickr