The meat industry has been linked to severe deforestation in South America in a new report compiled by Mighty Earth, Rainforest Foundation Norway, and Fern.
According to the investigation, large-scale deforestation, fires, and human rights abuses in Argentina and Paraguay's Gran Chaco region can be attributed - at least in part - to meat production.
The report - titled The Avoidable Crisis: The European Meat Industry's Environmental Catastrophe - urges global agribusinesses to improve the traceability of their soy and soybean supply chains as a result of its findings.
According to the report: "The meat industry relies on massive quantities of soy for animal feed to raise livestock: about three quarters of the world’s soy is used for animal feed. More than one million square kilometers of land are dedicated to growing soy, an area almost three times the size of Germany.
"Soy production is expanding across Latin America's agricultural frontier, a global hotspot for deforestation. Large companies like the American agribusinesses Cargill and Bunge are driving the destruction of ancient native ecosystems and the wildlife habitat they contain to make way for industrial soy monocultures.
"Europe is a crucial market for this soy...Europe imported 46.8 million tons of soy and soybean products in 2016, 27.8 million tons of which came from Latin America.
"8.8 million hectares are needed to grow the soy that is imported to the EU each year, equal to an area larger than Austria. How that soy is grown determines the environmental impact of the meat consumed in Europe."
The growing demand for soy means increasingly sizeable areas of forest are being cleared for production. The investigation used satellite mapping and drone footage to capture the burning and clearing of biome in order to create space to grow soy.
Mighty Earth's Policy Director, Anahita Yousefi, said: "The level of destruction was astounding. We documented bulldozers in action clearing large areas of intact forests and grasslands, as well as huge fires billowing smoke into the air.
"While the Gran Chaco has traditionally received less attention than other biomes like the Brazilian Amazon, it's a vitally important ecosystem and there’s no reason to destroy it."
Richly biodiverse, the Gran Chaco homes a number of species, including jaguars, armadillos and giant anteaters. Deforestation has destroyed the habitats of these animals.
American agribusiness Bunge is one of the companies named in the report as being unable to provide information on the traceability of their soy supply chain.
Rainforest Foundation Norway's Policy Advisor, Ida Breckan Claudi, said: "As long as the soy traders don’t take immediate action to end deforestation, it becomes the responsibility of companies within the meat industry, retailers and investors to demand that the soy traders guarantee deforestation-free soy.
"Investors like the Norwegian Pension Fund Global should take strong action towards portfolio company Bunge because of their repeated failure to address deforestation."
According to a statement by Bunge: "Bunge believes all agricultural value chains should be environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial to local communities.
"Our company is committed to applying policies in its businesses and supply chains that reflect these beliefs, and to collaborating with stakeholders and other value chain participants - from farmers to consumers - to develop practical approaches to realise them at scale.
"We are commited to: eliminating deforestation from our agricultural supply chains worldwide, employing tested methodologies that incorporate carbon and biodiversity protections, respecting local and indigenous community rights and applying free, prior and informed consent for land purchases and use, enhancing the traceability and transparency of key supply chains over time, publicly disclosing progress on our efforts."