The soybean complex comprises three main products: the bean (or seed), the oil and the soybean cake. Soybean meal is the by-product of the extraction of soybean oil. Crushing one ton of soybeans yields approximately 180 kg of oil and 800 kg of meal (Peyronnet et al., 2014) . Soy is mainly used as an intermediate product in food or industrial production chains. Nearly 90% of the world’s soybean harvest is destined for the crushing industry to produce soybean meal and oil.

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Image of a soybean plantation

Soybean meal is almost exclusively used as a protein in the composition of rations intended for feeding livestock (poultry, pigs, beef, farmed fish). It is the main source of protein used for animal feed in the world.

Soybean oil, one of the most widely consumed in the world, is 80% intended for food use, the rest being used mainly to produce biofuels (biodiesel). Only 6% of world soybean production is directly processed for food use in the form of soy milk, soy-based desserts, tofu or even as an emulsifier (soy lecithin) in industrial food preparations ( chocolates, ready meals, etc.) (Fraanje and Garnett, 2020).

The global soybean market

The main supply basins are concentrated in three countries: Brazil, Argentina and the United States, which represent nearly 70% of world soybean crops, including 30% from Brazil alone. About 90% of exported volumes come from Brazil, the United States, Argentina and Paraguay (MAPA, 2020; United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, 2020). The area planted with soybeans in Brazil reached 36.9 million hectares (2019-2020 harvest), after a 57% increase in ten years.

Over the 2017-2019 period, the production of these three countries accounted for more than 80% of world soybean production. Brazil and the United States provide two-thirds of the soy consumed globally (USDA, 2020). Soybean production in Brazil has grown very strongly since the end of the 1980s, rising from less than 20 to more than 120 million tonnes in 30 years.

The most notable environmental impacts of the expansion of soy in South America are the fragmentation of the remaining primitive vegetation cover, compaction and erosion and the increased risks of soil salinization, eutrophication of rivers, pollution of water and soil through fertilizer and pesticide residues, loss of belowground biomass and increased greenhouse gas emissions and loss of flora and fauna (Jia et al., 2020 ; Dias, 2008; Strassburg et al., 2016; Rekow, 2019; Noojipady et al., 2017; Hunke et al., 2015; Baumann et al., 2017; Tomei et al., 2010) .

The social impacts manifest themselves in the grabbing of land, the multiplication of conflicts between soybean producers and traditional communities, the reduction of access by rural populations to the natural resources (water, food, etc.) necessary to maintain their living conditions, the migration of rural populations to cities, the reduction of jobs in rural areas, the increase in poverty and the increase in inequalities (Favareto et al., 2019; Porto-Gonçalves et al., 2016; Garrett and Rausch, 2016; Flexor and Leite, 2017; Phélinas and Choumert, 2017; McKay, 2018; Weinhold et al., 2013).

To find out more: Deforestation associated with the import of soybeans on the French and European markets: current situation (study report by the Scientific and Technical Forestry Committee of AFD, August 2020)

Soy consumption in France

European livestock sectors are heavily dependent on Latin American soybeans which are the main source of protein for animal feed. French soybean imports came largely from the United States until the 1980s, but this situation has evolved to the benefit of South American countries, in particular Brazil, which is by far France’s leading supplier.

Thanks to the finance law, the tax advantage for the incorporation of soybean oil in biofuels has been abolished since January 1, 2022.

A dashboard is available on this platform for analyzing the risks of deforestation linked to French soybean imports.

Sustainable soy

Amazon soy moratorium

The most documented initiative to establish a zero deforestation soy sector is the soy moratorium in the Brazilian Amazon signed in 2006 and implemented from 2008 (Kastens et al., 2017; Gibbs et al., 2015 Rudorff et al., 2011) . The soy moratorium is a commitment by major players in the soy sector not to market soy produced in areas that come from deforestation in the Amazon biome. The commitment was first institutionalized between these actors and environmental NGOs and was then endorsed by the Brazilian government.

Certification standards

The main existing standards for soy are as follows:

standard RTRS – Roundtable on responsible soy;
standard ProTerra;
ISCC standard - International sustainability and carbon certification.
Their correspondence to the SNDI criteria (objective 13) was studied by the dedicated working group of the AFD Forest Scientific and Technical Committee and resulted in a study report .

To find out more: Importing soy without contributing to deforestation - Proposal for a mechanism to implement French commitments (collective work of the Scientific and Technical Forest Committee coordinated by Canopée and IDDRI, May 2021)

The "Soy Manifesto"

Initiated in November 2020, and supported by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Manifesto "FOR A MOBILIZATION OF FRENCH ACTORS TO FIGHT AGAINST IMPORTED DEFORESTATION LINKED TO SOYA" aims to mobilize all market players in order to ensure a sustainable supply chain for soy imported into France for animal feed (see details in the "Commitment of private actors" section).

The challenges of protein autonomy

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food published a national vegetable protein strategy in December 2020 .

The objective of this strategy is to reduce France’s dependence on foreign imports, particularly of soya, and thus reduce the risk of deforestation abroad.

This strategy has been allocated 100 million euros to begin its implementation. Its objective is to double by 2030 the agricultural area allocated to vegetable proteins to reach 2 million hectares.

It translates into:

  • Support for research and innovation actions, to develop relevant solutions from an economic, environmental and nutritional point of view, which will sustain the momentum launched by the recovery plan in the medium term;
  • Support for the material investments needed by both field crop producers and breeders;
  • Support for the structuring of vegetable protein sectors and downstream investments;
  • Assistance in promoting pulses to consumers.