There are legitimate concerns regarding the damage that growing soy causes to the environment, but unfortunately this is often bought up less out of concern for the environment and more as an attack against veganism and the vegan community. What is most often argued is that since soy also causes harm, and vegans eat soy, vegans shouldn’t be critical of eating animals or claim to hold any sort of moral high ground. This is a fallacy of course, even if soy were just as bad as meat this wouldn’t justify consuming meat on the basis that another product is also bad, but these claims do warrant a closer look.
Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that soy does cause a great deal of harm. Soy production requires vast expanses of land, and is overtaking fragile ecosystems all over the world, but especially in South America. This has resulted in significant deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats, which is effecting countless species. There are also many concerns regarding the treatment of those who grow soy to feed the west, which is again a legitimate problem which must be improved on as a matter or urgency.
The issue however, is that discussions of this nature almost never acknowledge why most of this soy is grown in the first place, which is for animal feed. About 70% of soy produced globally is fed to livestock, in the US this figure is 98%, and 90% in the EU. Farmed animals, without exception, take far more calories to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever give out in meat, meaning that every kg of meat requires a significantly higher input of crops. This means that despite assertions to the contrary, your average omnivorous diet will require significantly more soy than a vegan diet ever will. It is deeply unfair to hold vegans responsible for the global soy problem when we are a tiny percentage of the population, accounting for a minuscule percentage of soy consumption worldwide. If people genuinely do have legitimate concerns with the production of soy, then adopting a plant based diet would be one of the most effective means of lowering their soy consumption as much as possible.
The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to consume soy in order to be vegan. Soybean oil is often used in plant products, and fermented soy is frequently used in vegan meat alternatives and to make tofu, but these are by no means necessities. The primary advantage of soy is that it is cheap and a good source of protein, but plenty of other plant products fit this bill too, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, broccoli, nuts and seeds, to name a few. If you have moral objections to the use of soy then you have the option to go vegan and soy free, which would be very doable and likely quite a bit healthier than relying on soy based, faux meat substitutes.
The problems raised by soy consumption, including deforestation, water and energy use, soil degradation and land acquisition, are endemic with all monocrops, but especially those used for animal feed. Our massive appetite for meat, dairy and eggs requires huge amounts of crops be grown specifically for that reason; assigning blame to vegans because they also consume a tiny percentage of these crops is blatant scapegoating. Yes, soy is destructive, but we cannot be held responsible for it’s negative impact any more any more than we can be held responsible for global quinoa demand, despite the fact that we so often are.
There are inherent issues with all crops, but even the most resource intensive plant pales in comparison to the environmental destruction caused by meat, dairy and eggs. Criticising vegans on the basis that they consume these things, as someone consuming foods far more destructive and far more resource intensive, is hypocritical at best. Those concerned about the damage caused by soy production should be engaged in meaningful activism to boycott producers or pressure governments to change this system, rather than using this serious issue as little more than an excuse to attack vegans.