EUDR: soy

EUDR: soy

Soy, an essential crop in the world food supply and industry, is at the center of debates about sustainability and economics. In this blog post we describe global soy production and trade, the main players, and the impact on the economy and the environment.

Initiatives such as the European Union Deforestation Free Regulation (EUDR) try to make soy cultivation more sustainable by combating deforestation and forest degradation. Innovations in soy production promise to reduce the carbon footprint, while the future of soy depends on sustainable practices and technologies. Furthermore, we provide insight into the challenges and opportunities for soy in a world striving for sustainability, where the sector must adapt to environmental demands and changing market dynamics.

What is soy?

Soy refers to the legumes belonging to the genus Glycine max, a plant in the family Fabaceae (legumes). Soybeans are unique in their high content of protein and essential amino acids, oil, and other nutrients, making them an indispensable part of the world food supply. In addition to their nutritional value, soybeans are also processed into a variety of products such as soy milk, tofu, soy sauce, and soy oil, and serve as the basis for many animal feeds and industrial products.

History of soy cultivation and soy use worldwide

Soy cultivation originated more than 3,000 years ago in East Asia, with China as the historical center of domestication. Soybeans were valued for their contribution to soil fertility through nitrogen fixation, as well as their versatile uses in nutrition. Over the centuries, soy cultivation spread to other parts of Asia, such as Korea and Japan, where it became an essential part of local cuisines.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, soy reached the United States and South America, where it became an important commercial crop. Modern soy cultivation has developed significantly with the introduction of genetic modification and advanced cultivation techniques, making production more efficient and sustainable. Today, the United States, Brazil, and Argentina are the leading producers of soy, together accounting for a large share of global soy production.

Different types of soybeans and their unique properties

Soybeans come in several varieties, each with unique properties that make them suitable for specific applications. The most common colors of soybeans are yellow, green, black, and brown. Yellow soybeans are most common for the production of food products and livestock feed because of their high protein content and good oil yield. Green soybeans, often known as edamame, are usually harvested young and eaten as a vegetable. Black soy beans are widely used in Asian cuisine and have a rich, nutty flavor. Brown soybeans, less common, are sometimes used in specific dishes and traditional medicines.

The diversity in soy types reflects the plant’s adaptability to different climates and soil types, as well as its versatility in use. Scientists and farmers continue to develop new soy varieties that are more resistant to diseases, pests, and climate change, contributing to the sustainability and efficiency of soy farming.

Soy is the foundation of a complex global industry, from traditional foods to modern biofuels. Continued innovation in soy cultivation and processing promises to further strengthen soy’s role in global food supply and sustainability.

Nutritional profile of soybeans

Soybeans are distinguished by their exceptionally high protein content, which makes them a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans. A 100-gram serving of cooked soybeans contains approximately 16 grams of protein, which corresponds to approximately 32% of the daily recommended amount for adults. In addition, soybeans are a complete protein source, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.

In addition to protein, soybeans are also rich in dietary fiber, vitamins (including vitamin K, folic acid, and several B vitamins), minerals (such as iron, magnesium, and phosphorus), and are a good source of antioxidants. Soybeans also contain isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogens that play an important role in the prevention of certain health conditions.

Health benefits of soy consumption

Soy consumption is associated with several health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, certain cancers and osteoporosis. Soy protein can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The isoflavones in soy have an antioxidant effect, which can help prevent cell damage and the development of certain cancers, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.

There is also some evidence that soy consumption may have positive effects on bone density, which is of particular importance for postmenopausal women who are at higher risk for osteoporosis. In addition, soy can help manage menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, thanks to the phytoestrogenic properties of isoflavones.

Myths and misconceptions about soy

Despite its significant health benefits, soy consumption also faces some controversy, mainly due to misunderstandings and myths surrounding phytoestrogens. A common myth is that soy consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer due to the presence of isoflavones. However, extensive research has shown that soy consumption in moderate amounts can actually have a protective effect against breast cancer.

Another misconception is that soy can have negative effects on male fertility. However, studies have found no consistent evidence that soy product consumption has a significant impact on testosterone levels or fertility in men.

It is important to emphasize that although soy offers many health benefits, consumption should be balanced and part of a varied and balanced diet. Nutrition experts recommend opting for whole soy products such as edamame, tofu, and tempeh, and consuming fewer processed forms of soy to reap the maximum health benefits.

Soy, one of the most versatile crops in the world, has a wide range of products and derivatives that play a central role in food and industry. This section of the article provides a comprehensive overview of soy products, discusses key derivatives such as soy oil and soy meal, and sheds light on some of the most innovative soy-based products on the market.

Overview of soy products

Soy is the basis for a range of foods and products. The most famous are:

  1. Tofu: Made by curdling and pressing soy milk into blocks, tofu is an excellent source of protein and has a versatile use in both sweet and savory dishes.
  2. Soy Milk: A plant-based alternative to milk, made from soaked, ground and cooked soy beans. Soy milk is rich in proteins and often enriched with vitamins and minerals.
  3. Tempeh: A fermented soy product native to Indonesia, known for its nutty flavor and firm texture, and serves as an excellent source of protein and fiber.
  4. Edamame: Young soy beans still in the pod, often steamed and lightly salted served as a snack or side dish.
  5. Soy Sauce: A liquid condiment produced by mixing fermented soybeans with grain, salt and water, essential in many Asian cuisines.
  6. Miso: A Japanese spice paste made from fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes grains, used in soups and sauces.
  7. Soy Flour: Ground soybeans made into flour, used in baking products and as a thickener.
  8. Soy Protein Isolate: A high-quality protein powder made from soybeans, often used in sports nutrition and diet products.

Soy derivatives

In addition to direct foodstuffs, soybean processing also produces some important derivatives:

  • Soybean oil: The most produced vegetable oil worldwide, used in food, as cooking oil, and in industrial applications such as biodiesel.
  • Soy Meal: A by-product of soy oil extraction, rich in protein and fiber, and used in animal feed and as a baking ingredient.
  • Soy Lecithin: A fat mixture derived from the processing of soybeans, used as an emulsifier in food products and in pharmaceutical applications.

Innovative soy-based products

In recent years, innovations in food technology have led to the development of new soy-based products that are conquering the market:

  1. Plant-based meat substitutes: Soy serves as the basis for many plant-based meat substitutes, which mimic the texture and taste of meat. Products range from burgers to sausages and minced meat, designed to reduce meat consumption.
  2. Soy Yogurt: A dairy-free alternative to traditional yogurt, made from soy milk and acidified by specific bacterial cultures.
  3. Soybean Pasta: Pasta made from soy flour offers a gluten-free alternative rich in protein.
  4. Soy Ice Cream: A lactose-free alternative to traditional ice cream, made with soy milk or tofu.
  5. Soy Protein Bars and Shakes: Designed for sports nutrition, these products provide a convenient way to increase protein consumption.

The development of these innovative soy products reflects a growing demand for sustainable and healthy food choices. Soy offers a versatile and environmentally friendly option that suits a wide range of diets and lifestyles, from veganism to flexitarianism.

Global soy production

In 2020, global soybean production reached an impressive 353.5 million metric tons, spread over approximately 126.95 million hectares. These figures reflect a 5% increase in total production and a 4.46% growth in the land area used for soy cultivation compared to the previous year. Productivity per hectare increased slightly by 0.36%, indicating improvements in cultivation techniques and technologies.

Main soy producing countries

The leaders in soy production have remained consistent over the years, with Brazil, the United States, and Argentina at the top. Brazil remains the largest global soy producer, followed by the United States and then Argentina. In 2020, Brazil accounted for a significant portion of the global total, with 37 million hectares devoted to soy production, while the United States took up 33 million hectares. The strong dollar has benefited Brazilian soy production in 2020, and this production is expected to increase further thanks to investments in logistics improvements, the use of former pasturelands and land conversion in border areas such as the Cerrado.

Impact of climate change on soy cultivation

Climate change poses a growing threat to global soy production, with potential impacts on yields, geographic distribution of growing areas, and the occurrence of diseases and pests. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can lead to reductions in soil quality, water availability and ultimately affect the productivity of soybean cultivation. At the same time, climate change also offers opportunities for expanding soy cultivation to new areas, especially in higher or more northern regions that were previously too cool for soy cultivation.

Adapting soybean cultivation to climate change requires innovative approaches, such as the development of new varieties that are more resistant to drought, heat, and disease, as well as improved agricultural practices that promote soil health and make water use more efficient. In addition, investments in research and development play a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability and resilience of soy cultivation in the face of climate change.

Global soy trade plays a crucial role in the global agricultural economy, given the immense demand for soybeans and derived products for both food consumption and industrial applications. This section examines the role of soy in global trade, highlights the largest exporters and importers of soy and soy products, and discusses the economic, environmental, and political factors that influence this trade.

The role of soy in world trade

Soy and its derivatives are some of the most traded agricultural commodities worldwide, essential for food supply, livestock nutrition, and as a source of vegetable oil and protein. Soy’s flexibility as a raw material for a wide range of products, from tofu to biodiesel, makes it an indispensable element in international trade.

Major exporters and importers of soy

Brazil and the United States are the dominant exporters of soybeans, together accounting for 85% of the total export value. The emergence of Brazil as the world’s largest exporter of whole soybeans, with an export value of USD 28.6 billion, just ahead of the United States with USD 25.6 billion, underlines the shift in global market dynamics.

The global top 10 of soy importers in 2022 is as follows:

Below is a table of the top 10 countries that exported soybeans in 2022, ranked by export volume in tons, from highest to lowest:

CountryExport volume (tonnes)
United States of America57,332,027
Russian Federation778,927

On the import side, China dominates with a 60% share of global soybean imports, illustrating the country’s unrivaled position as the leading consumer of soybeans:

Below you will find a table with the top 10 countries that imported soybeans in 2022, ranked by import volume in tons, from highest to lowest:

CountryImport volume (tonnes)

The EU, with the Netherlands as a prominent buyer, and other countries such as Mexico, Thailand, and Egypt, are also significant importers. This concentration of import activities highlights the central role of soy in the food and agricultural sectors worldwide.

The distribution of the top 10 soybean import volumes in the EU in 2022:

CountryImport volume (tonnes)

Economic, environmental and political factors

  • Economic Factors: The soy trade is driven by growing global demand for protein and oil, investments in agricultural technology, and the development of distribution and transportation infrastructure. Currency fluctuations, trade agreements and policies, and changing market dynamics have a significant impact on soybean trade flows and prices.
  • Ecological factors: Soybean cultivation is a major cause of deforestation, especially in South America. This has led to an increased focus on sustainable production practices and the development of certification schemes to promote more environmentally friendly cultivation methods.
  • Political Factors: Trade conflicts, such as the recent US-China trade war, have significantly affected the soy trade, resulting in shifts in trade routes and import tariffs. Moreover, national policies to support local agriculture or protect natural resources can change trade flows.

The impact of soy production on deforestation and the environment

The global expansion of soy cultivation is directly linked to significant ecological consequences, with deforestation and forest degradation at the forefront. Particularly in South America, soy production is one of the primary drivers of forest clearing, which leads to biodiversity loss, changes in water cycles and contributes to climate change. The conversion of natural habitats to agricultural land for soy not only results in a decrease in carbon storage capacity but also affects indigenous communities and threatens the habitat of many animal species.

Sustainable soy production practices

In response to growing concerns about the environmental impacts of soy farming, several initiatives and certification systems have been developed to promote sustainable production practices. These practices include reducing pesticide use, preserving natural habitats, and improving soil health through crop rotation and other sustainable agricultural techniques. Certification programs such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and ProTerra promote these sustainable practices by setting environmental and social criteria that producers must meet in order to sell their soy as ‘responsible’.

The influence of the EUDR on the soy trade

The European Union recently introduced the Deforestation free Regulation (EUDR), a policy instrument aimed at reducing the EU’s contribution to global deforestation and forest degradation through its consumption and import patterns. The aim of these regulations is to ensure that products such as soy that enter the European market meet strict sustainability criteria, whereby only soy that has not contributed to further deforestation or damage to ecosystems may be imported. This policy puts pressure on soy producers worldwide to overhaul and make their production methods more sustainable, and could have a significant impact on the global soy trade by increasing demand for sustainably produced soy.

The impact of the EUDR on the soy trade is twofold. On the one hand, it encourages producers and exporters in countries such as Brazil and Argentina to switch to more sustainable production practices, which could lead to a reduction in the negative environmental impacts associated with soy cultivation. On the other hand, it increases the need for robust traceability systems and transparency in the supply chain so that EU importers can verify the origin of their soy products and demonstrate compliance with the EUDR.

The introduction of the EUDR and similar policies worldwide represents an important step towards a more sustainable global agricultural sector. By promoting responsible production practices and reducing the environmental footprint of agricultural activities, these policy instruments can help protect biodiversity, combat climate change, and improve the livelihoods of farming communities worldwide. However, the challenge lies in the effective implementation and enforcement of these regulations, as well as in the willingness of all stakeholders in the soy chain to commit to a more sustainable future.

Innovations in soy cultivation and soy production

Innovations in soy cultivation focus on increasing yields, reducing environmental impact and improving resilience to climate change. Genetic engineering has led to soy plants that are more resistant to drought, disease, and pests, while biotechnology and CRISPR techniques promise to develop soy plants with higher nutritional value and less need for chemical pesticides. In addition, precision agriculture techniques, such as satellite images and sensor technology, are used to optimize water and nutrient management and maximize yields.

Experiments are also being done to grow soy in the Netherlands, for example, as you can see in the video below:

Future of the global soy trade

The global soy trade faces several challenges, including trade conflicts, tariffs and sustainability issues. However, demand for soy is expected to continue to rise, especially from Asia and specifically China, the largest importer of soy worldwide. Countries such as Brazil, the United States and Argentina are likely to maintain their dominant position in the export market, although they face increasing competition from other regions and the need to adopt more sustainable production practices.

Potential challenges and solutions for sustainable growth

The biggest challenge for the soy industry is how to meet the increasing demand for soy without further deforestation and environmental pollution. Sustainable soy production practices, such as reducing chemical use, improving soil health, and implementing integrated pest management, are becoming increasingly important. The adoption of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) certification and similar initiatives helps ensure more sustainable production methods.

On a political and regulatory level, initiatives such as the European Union Deforestation free Regulation (EUDR) play a crucial role in encouraging more sustainable trade flows. These regulations force companies to cleanse their supply chains of soy that contributes to deforestation, leading to significant changes in trade dynamics and production practices.

Looking ahead, the key to sustainable growth in the soy industry is finding the balance between meeting global demand and protecting the environment. This requires a coordinated effort among governments, industry, and civil society organizations to drive innovation, adopt sustainable practices, and develop transparent, responsible supply chains. By working together, stakeholders can ensure a future in which soy production contributes to economic growth as well as environmental and social well-being.


Global soy production and trade are a crucial component of the global food supply and agricultural economy, but also pose significant sustainability challenges. Soy is central to diets worldwide, driven by its versatility and the demand for protein-rich foods and vegetable oils. The dominant role of countries such as Brazil, the United States and Argentina in soy production and exports, versus China’s immense import needs, underlines the globalized nature of this trade. However, the ecological footprint of soy production, particularly its impact on deforestation and biodiversity loss, raises questions about the sustainability of current practices.

Innovations and initiatives aimed at sustainable soy production are gaining ground, partly thanks to the pressure from environmental regulations such as the European Union Deforestation free Regulation (EUDR), which aims to reduce the negative environmental impact of soy production. These regulations, together with the commitment of farmers, businesses and governments to more sustainable practices, represent a step forward towards a more balanced relationship between agricultural production and environmental conservation.

The future of soy cultivation and trade lies in balancing economic growth with environmental and social responsibility. The continued development of sustainable cultivation methods, combined with international cooperation and policymaking aimed at protecting natural resources, is essential to reduce the negative impact of soy production on the environment. At the same time, innovation in soy processing and consumption is crucial to meet growing global demand without further burdening the environment. Through collective efforts, we can strive for a soy industry that is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

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