1 July 2020

Global meat consumption linked to Cerrado biodiversity risks

Some of the most exciting breakthroughs in sustainability science come through combining existing data sets to produce rich new information resources.

In one recent example , meat consumption patterns around the world were linked back to the impacts on specific wild species and habitats due to agricultural expansion in the Cerrado, a biodiverse savannah in Brazil.

The data were combined in two stages. First, landscape-level Trase data on Brazilian soy supply chains were linked with a model of biodiversity losses between 2000 and 2010, to estimate the impacts of soy expansion on different animal and plant species.

The combination of Trase data and high-resolution species data made it possible to capture the highly diverse impacts on species from countries’ and traders’ specific sourcing patterns. This is critical for understanding impacts on (and ways to help) Cerrado-dependent species such as Kaempfer’s woodpecker (Celeus obrieni), which occurs in just a small area and is in a precarious situation.

The results showed, for example, that around 45% of the impacts on endemic species’ ranges were associated with production of soy going to the domestic market (a sizeable share of which is used to produce chicken and pork. Another 22% of the impacts were associated with exports to China, and 15% to exports to the European Union. Two thirds of the impacts occurred in Goiás state and Distrito Federal.

This new data set was then linked to a global economic model to follow the soy’s journey from Brazilian ports to the country and sector of final consumption (regular Trase data only map commodity flows to the first country of import). As globally traded soy is nearly all used as livestock feed, this included consumption in the form of meat and dairy products.

When it comes to which soy-fed meat products have the greatest impact, beef consumption accounts for about 13% of soy’s impacts, and other meats (e.g. port and chicken) for about 14%. However, in some major European markets like Germany, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, consumption of non-beef meat products fed on Cerrado soy accounted for around 30% of the impacts, compared to only 10–12% for soy-fed beef products.

The fact that commodity production – and the related consumption – are linked to biodiversity loss has long been known. But until now it has not been possible to quantify the impacts, to see them in such detail, or to connect them to specific actors, supply chains and consumer products. This new approach not only deepens our understanding of the links, but also for the first time reveals real opportunities for action – another creative and invaluable application of Trase data.