Do you know how much soy you eat? ‘Not a lot’, would probably be your initial response. Maybe you don’t like tofu, or maybe you only use soy sauce once in a while. But if you eat meat, cheese, eggs or drink milk your (indirect) soy consumption is much higher than you think. The reason? Around 80% of the world’s soy production is used as feed for livestock.

Natural ecosystems at risk

Soy produces more protein per hectare than any other major crop. It’s one of the most profitable agricultural products of our time, and has allowed the farming industry to produce meat and dairy at reduced costs. In 50 years, global soy production has grown tenfold, but this has come with a price. Even if the soybean plant is native to Asia, vast areas of forest, grassland and savannah in South America have been converted into soy fields. The expansion of soy cultivation there can be compared to the expansion of palm oil cultivation in Asia. Both crops grow very rapidly, but this comes at the expense of damage to natural ecosystems and negative impact on local communities.

Round Table on Responsible Soy

The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) was established in 2005 as a forum for all stakeholders in soy cultivation. It represents different stakeholder perspectives, as participants include environmental and social non-governmental organisations, soy producers and traders, finance institutions, manufacturers, retailers and companies in the feed industry. The platform aims to develop criteria for responsible soy production and build a global market for certified responsible soy. RTRS finalised its standards in 2010, which were first put into practice by soy producers in 2011. One point of criticism of the RTRS is that it does not distinguish between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM soy. This permissive approach stems from the RTRS’s aspirations to be a mainstream platform. Given that more than 80% of all soy grown worldwide is of GM-origin, we deem this a justifiable decision.

New Triodos standard and the RTRS

Triodos requires relevant companies to be a member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), or to have a sourcing policy and/or programmes for sustainable soy. This includes companies that produce animal feed or those that produce goods in which the main component or ingredient is animal product. For some, our new standard may be considered too lenient; however, we consider it to be an important first step for companies to demonstrate their awareness of the responsibility that comes with the use of soy. The World Wildlife Fund’s Soy Report Card 2014 shows that only one-third of the companies surveyed have committed to only use responsible soy, and just a handful of companies are on track to use 100% responsible soy by 2015. Our new standard does not mean that Triodos will let go of its rejection of genetic modification in food and feed crops. We will maintain our preference for investment in companies that limit or even exclude the use of ingredients from GM crops. This new standard is but a first step and the soy industry is rapidly picking up sustainability. We anticipate that we will soon have to sharpen our criteria yet again.

Note: The issues explored in this article are relevant for sustainable investments on the stock market. Triodos Bank believes that our socially responsible investments are a powerful means of promoting our values and working for greater sustainability, while enabling us to offer a complete range of attractive investment options to customers who choose to invest on the stock market.