Global trade and demand for food products produced overseas has increased dramatically in recent decades; impacts from agricultural production include displacement and more. Concurrently, human-driven environmental degradation and species loss is continuing apace. Soy crops in particular cause a disproportionately large impact on the environment.

Legislation under consideration to reduce environmental impacts of international supply chains tends to focus only on deforestation, which represents loss of wildlife in producer countries. This metric overlooks other impacts on species and their habitats.

soy field Paraguay with trees and blue sky / Getty Images

Soy field in Paraguay. Photo: Jesibel Fernandez / Getty Images .

The authors of this study examined risks in the soy supply chain for soy produced in three countries in South America; Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, firstly for forest loss and secondly for four indicators of risk to species. These indicators each represent different, important aspects of wildlife conservation, for example, risk of extinction and how rare species are. The species and forest loss indicators are linked to a model for soy supply chains for the largest importers; the EU, China and Argentina.

The authors found few similarities between patterns of forest loss and species indicators. Furthermore, the four species indicators also show differences. This suggests that although forest loss is an important indicator, to target species-related impacts it is not enough alone. More work is also needed to understand the interactions between more complex indicators and what this means for traders of products which have large environmental impacts. This is also important for development of future legislation in terms of what indicators need to be included.

This research has been supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund Trade Hub