Meat eating threatens rare species

Consumption of pork and chicken in the UK has been linked with the loss of vital habitats in Brazil’s savannah.

New research has found that overseas consumer markets could be responsible for more than half of the impact of expanding soy production on rare species in the Brazilian Cerrado, one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.

Soy production has been strongly linked with the conversion of natural habitats in parts of the Cerrado and Amazon. Brazilian soy is often processed into a protein-rich meal which is then exported to global markets for use as animal feed.

More than half (55%) of the impact in the Cerrado is attributed to food and other products that are consumed outside Brazil, with 22% attributed to consumption in China and 15% to consumption in the European Union. Of that 15%, just under 2% is linked to the UK.

The paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in major European markets like Germany, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, consumption of pork, chicken and lamb fed on Cerrado soy had a bigger impact on biodiversity loss than consumption of soy-fed beef products.

The Cerrado is home to 5% of the world’s species, but the wilderness is being converted rapidly, particularly for agriculture. Species such as the Giant anteater, Kaempfer’s woodpecker and the Blue-eyed ground dove are highlighted as being particularly at risk.

“Our findings underline that local biodiversity loss is a global problem,” said co-author Paz Durán of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity at Universidad Austral de Chile. “Although both companies and consumers are paying increasing attention to the environmental cost of products, the complex nature of international supply chains can result in connections between a product and its environmental footprint being lost.”

Lead author Jonathan Green, from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, said that the ability to link soy production and habitat loss to specific consumer countries and traders could be “invaluable for helping companies and countries to source more sustainably and invest in less ecologically harmful agriculture”.

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