High hopes for new European soy declaration

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17 Jul 2017 --- A new EU proposal aims to boost the amount of soy grown in Europe in a bid to ease the pressure on South American countries where vast monocultures of GM soy have replaced forests, according to campaign group Friends of the Earth Europe.

It says South America is “paying the price for Europe's hungry factory farms” – with vast monocultures of pesticide-soaked, GM soy where forests used to be. But a new EU proposal aims to boost the amount of soy grown in Europe to ease the pressure on countries in the Global South and at the same time, it must be careful to avoid repeating the problem in Europe, argues Stanka Becheva of FoE. 

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has for years rewarded a food and farming system dependent on cheap raw materials overseas and highly intensive production – and in doing so has led to the rise of industrial factory farms, claims FoE.

Animals reared in these conditions need extra high-protein feed, but the existing CAP provides no incentive for farmers to grow their own feed. Instead, feed is imported from overseas in enormous quantities – 23.4 million tons of soybeans are imported into the EU, but less than two million tons are produced domestically. 

This means an estimated 16 million hectares of land are required outside the EU to feed its livestock sector, which is equivalent to 90 percent of Germany's entire agricultural area. The impacts are mainly focused in South America, where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay together supply 73 percent of the EU's soy.

FoE says these statistics hide a harsh reality on the ground. Soy is produced in enormous, barren monocultures, with forests and biodiversity being cleared on a massive scale to make way for plantations. 

It is concerned because soils are rapidly exhausted, as the strains of GM soy require huge amounts of pesticides – leading to water pollution and health problems for local communities, it claims. 

FoE suggests that political action to address these impacts has been “shockingly absent”, however European agricultural ministers from 13 EU countries are expected to sign off on a German-Hungarian proposal to boost European soy – the European Soya Declaration – next week.

The declaration calls on European governments to address Europe's huge dependency on imported soy, and goes further, suggesting measures to tackle meat overconsumption. Respectively, it encourages governments to increase the production and use of sustainably produced and locally adapted legumes for animal feed, and encourages citizens to move to more plant-based-protein diets.

While FoE welcomes the declaration, it warns that it leaves itself open to the pitfalls and risks of opening up parts of Europe to similar problems to those that have plagued South America.

It sees the greatest potential to increase soya production in central and Eastern Europe – home to the majority of the EU's remaining small-scale peasant farmers, whose existence is already precarious. 

It models the expansion without a socio-economic impact assessment, potentially putting small-scale farmers at risk of being driven out by large, agribusiness-fueled soy monocultures, according to the campaigners. 

In addition, it lacks much-needed steps to go further, and tackle the other destructive impacts of factory farming. Factory-farmed animals in Europe suffer in particularly poor conditions, produce huge amounts of effluent leading to water and soil pollution, are a significant contributor to climate change, and are pumped full of antibiotics, causing rising antibiotic resistance.

Friends of the Earth Europe hopes that the European Soy Declaration will make national and EU politicians support genuinely sustainable protein crop production in Europe, as well as more meat-free diets. 

Soy and other leguminous crops should be not grown in monocultures and appropriate varieties should be essential part of well-planned crop rotations, avoiding any use of artificial pesticides. This is the only acceptable way to increase protein plant production in Europe, according to FoE. 

It also calls on EU governments to rethink the role of industrial livestock production and take urgent steps to tackle production and consumption levels. This would lead to reducing the need of importing soy from the South.

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