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Located across several countries on the South American continent, the Amazon Rainforest is a site of rich biodiversity. From the jaguar to the poison dart frog, one in ten species known on Earth is found in this lush forest. This vast variety of species does not only include animals, but the 400 billion trees belonging to 16,000 species. These trees are of vital importance to the environment as they produce 20 percent of the oxygen on Earth and absorb more than 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The health of the planet is largely contingent on the preservation of the Amazon rainforest, however, current agricultural practices threaten the survival of this complex ecosystem. Deforestation has long been an issue in the Amazon, but the 2018 election of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil accelerated this destruction. Under Bolsonaro, forest protections weakened and Amazon deforestation reached an 11-year high.

The consequences of such devastation are manifold. Deforestation not only leads to habitat loss for a wide array of animals, but these practices also encroach on land inhabited by over 300,000 indigenous people. In addition to these local problems, Amazon deforestation poses a potential global catastrophe in terms of climate change.

During the summer of 2019, several news articles broke the story that the Amazon was burning. Although this practice had been around for decades, the sense of urgency in the news coverage was apparent. That August, there were more than 80,000 fires in the Amazon, which was an 80 percent increase from the previous year. With the help of social media hashtags like #PrayforAmazonia, this issue quickly trended across social media platforms. Elected officials such as Emmanual Macron of France and celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Lana Condor spoke out on social media and donated to the cause.

Because the burning of the Amazon became such a hot topic, many people began examining what they could do as individuals to help stop this deforestation. Many of those conversations centered soy production as a major contributor to these agricultural practices. This focus is unsurprising considering that Brazil has 24-25 million hectares devoted to soybean production and globally, 480,000 hectares are deforested for soy in major soy-producing tropical countries.

Source:  ABC News/Youtube

Among the most obvious and overt soy products are tofu and mock meats. Thus, these products came under scrutiny as many believed diets heavy in tofu and mock meats were great contributors to Amazon deforestation. These misconceptions prevail even now, over a year after the burning Amazon trended on social media.

In reality, the overwhelming majority of soy is consumed in much more covert ways. For example, soy lecithin is widely found in processed foods due to its emulsifying properties. Emulsifiers allow oil and water to mix, which is why soy lecithin is often found in oil-heavy foods such as chocolate, chips, buttery spreads, and creamy dressings. Because many of the most commonly packaged foods contain soy lecithin, soy is much more ubiquitous than one might think.

Furthermore, of the soybeans grown in the world, only about 6 percent are harvested for direct human consumption. Around 20 percent is converted to soybean oil and used for frying foods, creating biodiesel, and even producing plastic and paint. The remaining 70-75 percent is fed to livestock, which means the majority of soybeans produced in the world are actually used by the animal agriculture industry.

In the Amazon, the production of beef alone is directly responsible for twice as much deforestation as soybeans, palm oil, and wood combined. This staggering statistic does not even include the indirect deforestation caused by the soybeans fed to the cattle. Therefore, even though soy accounts for a significant amount of the deforestation that takes place in the Amazon, most of the damage stems from animal agriculture, whether in the form of grazing land for cattle or soybean feed for livestock.

What can you do?

Because the majority of deforestation is caused by animal agriculture, reducing or eliminating animal products from your diet is one of the most impactful changes you can make on a personal level. Similarly, even though tofu and mock meats are some of the most obvious soy products, avoiding them is actually not the most effective way to reduce soy intake. As mentioned, only about 6 percent of soy is actually consumed directly by humans, whereas about 75 percent is consumed by livestock. Therefore, eliminating animal products is a much more impactful way to reduce your soy consumption.

If you have already taken this step towards a vegan lifestyle and want to lessen your impact, even more, stay away from GM soy products. Genetically modified soy, such as Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” soybeans, are marketed for their resistance to pesticides and herbicides. This immunity allows farmers to excessively spray these harmful chemicals without worrying about their crops being damaged. However, the surrounding environment does not share this immunity, resulting in depletion of soil nutrients, increased erosion, loss of natural biodiversity, and contaminated water supplies.

Finally, you can sign this petition to help prevent future fires in the Amazon!

To learn more about the Amazon rainforest, deforestation, and the importance of a vegan lifestyle, check out this related content below:

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