Forest clearance in Paraguay

Soy and factory-farmed pigs

How is rainforest destruction in Brazil linked to factory farming in Northern Ireland?
Celeste Hicks
By Celeste Hicks    |      Published:  26 Mar 2019    |      Last updated:  20 Apr 2023    |      2 minute read

In 2013 Northern Ireland’s Agri Food strategy board set a target to increase the country’s breeding sow population to 53,000 by 2020. And by June 2021 numbers had reached 58,000

But where would feed for this increased pig production come from? Friends of the Earth’s focus on Northern Ireland's Going for Growth agricultural strategy helped to shed light on the issue.

Using land to grow animal feed

While much attention has been on the negative impacts on communities and the environment from the exploitation of natural resources – such as minerals and oil – the issue of land being used for the production of animal feed hasn't been highlighted. But this can also be considered a form of extractivism (where large quantities of natural resources are extracted for export, usually with minimal processing).

A number of planning applications for industrial-scale pig farms in Northern Ireland were submitted, including in the town of Limavady.

But if Northern Ireland was to achieve these targets for increased pig production, the hungry animals would need foods high in protein such as soy.

These pigs are reared in intensive conditions where they're unable to eat a varied diet, and market conditions require them to grow quickly.

Forests destroyed

Around 97% of the soymeal produced worldwide is used for animal feed. 

With demand set to double by 2050, more and more land is being turned over to feeding livestock.

Great swathes of Latin America have been given over to growing soy, which is shipped around the world. This means pristine forests, wildlife habitats, and indigenous community lands are being destroyed to make way for crops for animal feed.

Forced off their land

Across Latin America, rural communities are being forced off their land and small-scale farmers have nowhere to grow the food they need for their families.

Stripping land of natural forests to make way for soy production also releases carbon dioxide, pollutes the soil through the use of pesticides, and causes erosion and water loss.

The countries growing animal feed

Brazil is the second largest exporter of soy after the USA, followed by Argentina and Paraguay.

According to figures from the Stop Limavady Pig Farm campaign, 19,307 hectares of land in Brazil are already used to grow soy for Northern Ireland’s pigs. That’s about the size of 19,000 rugby pitches, and it’s set to grow.

It's not natural

Does it make sense to grow animals in conditions which require them to eat foods that aren't a natural part of their diets? Especially if those foodstuffs are having negative impacts on communities, food security and habitats in other parts of the world.

Now read about the pig slurry problem.