The Internal Relatedness of Soybeans, Human Health, Global Warming and the Trade War

us china trade war

The study of soybeans brings home the fact that everything is internally related. We can never fully understand any one thing, even something as humble as the soybean,  without being drawn beyond it to the study of other things, and ultimately to the study of the totality in which they partake.

The Dialectic of Soy in the Human body:

Soybeans in the form of tofu and soymilk are part of the diets of many Asian countries as well as staples for vegans and vegetarians around the world.  To be sure,Soy is an extremely nutritious food being high in protein, rich in the beneficial oil lecithin, and high in linoleic acid.Lecithin is a fat that used for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as for gallbladder and liver disease amongst other physical and psychological ailments.  Linoleic acid is a crucial structural component of cell membranes which helps to regulate blood pressure, blood lipid levels, immune function.

However, despite the many health benefits that accrue from eating soybeans, they can also be harmful to our health. This is because soy contains a phytoestrogen called isoflavone that binds to estrogen receptors in the human body.  Some studies indicate that soy appears to cause feminization in males, and raises the risk of certain kinds of cancers in females, and affects the reproductive functions  of both genders


The Dialectic of Global Warming and Agricultural Production – Effects of Soybeans on the Environment:

However, only a very small amount of soybeans are consumed directly by humans.  In fact, 95 percent of the soy produced in the world is consumed by farm animals such as chickens, cows, pigs and farmed fish, raised under the intensive conditions of commercial agricultural. It is this agriculture that is simultaneously a perpetrator and victim of global warming.  Soybeans partake in this dialectic.  Simultaneously,  commercial farming is both a result and a cause of increased population growth.   The world population is increasing rapidly and according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs it could increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050 compared to today’s 7.5 billion.  As the population  is growing so is the demand for food in general, and soybeans in particular.    As demands for these products has grown, the soybean market has exploded.  World soybean production has more than doubled in the past several decades.  The dialectic of the demand for soybean products is that while it both directly and indirectly contributes to the fight against food scarcity in the face of a rapidly expanding human population, it simultaneously contributes to global warming, which is a threat to human life.

This process of attempting to increase acreage  and so the production of soybeans is particularly obvious in Brazil, which ranks second behind the U.S. as a soybean producer. Over the last 25 years, the Brazilian soybean sector has been transformed into the greatest generatorof foreign exchange in the country. This was made possible by the development of new methods of farming and new crop varieties which enabled farmers to grown soybeans in areas where tropical forests once prevailed.  Part and parcel of the drive to produce more soybeans was the development of genetically modified agricultural products.  Monsanto was to be a major player in the development of genetically modified food products. The company first launched a genetically modified soybean cultivar in 1998.  The first GMO soybeans entered Brazil illegally with seeds smuggled from Argentina and Uruguay.    By 2003, Brazil saw significant higher yields in soybean farming.

As a result of both Monsanto’s modified seeds and the increase in demand for soybeans,  deforestation took place.  Deforestation is, of course, an indirect contributor to global warming, as forests absorb CO2.  The deforestation in the Amazon area of Brazil increased steadily and as it did, so too did the amount of CO2 in the air.  However, in 2006 groups headed by Greenpeace began a drive to put a moratorium on deforestation in Brazil and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped by 70 percent.  It is estimated that this reduction prevented about 3.2 Gt of carbon emissions resulted from the Soy Moratorium.  Still, as the demand for soybeans has increased, Brazilian farmers have simply turned to other regions to deforest.  The area for soybean cultivation in the 2018/2019 harvest is estimated at 35.8 million hectares, which is a record.

The Dialectic of Global Warming and Farming Regions:

However, Brazil’s soybean production has already been deeply affected by global warming.  A longer dry season has been one negative impact.  In 2005 there was drought in the Amazonia.  Hurricane Katrina seriously damaged agricultural producers, and  in 2005 the highest temperature on record was recorded.  If recent forecasts for extraordinary temperature increases around the globe prove to be accurate, the Brazilian economy, which derives a large portion of its GDP from soybean farming, runs the risk of collapsing.

Luiz Goedde, of the management and consulting firm McKinsey & Company, points to the steady northward movement of soybean farming that is occurring as a result of global warming.  She notes that Canadian soybean production has responded to increasing global demands by increasing production.  Moreover, new variety of soybeans are being developed that have a shorter growing season.  Advantages also accrue to both Russia and China to increase their soybean production as global warming makes it more difficult to grow soybeans in hot and harsh conditions such as prevail in Brazil, Argentina and other countries close to the Equator.

The Dialectic of the Trade War and Soybeans:

The deep and profound internal relatedness of all things comes home to us when we considered the “soybean war” as I have referred to it in a previous article.

China is the world’s largest consumer of soybeans.  America is the largest producer with Brazil following a close second.  As global warming continues to impact soybean farms, several things may occur.  First, China and the world’s great demand for the product in the face of an increasing population and  declining production, may make it reconsider its tariffs on American soybeans.  On the other hand, nations such as Canada and Russia may be able to take up the slack, at least for a while, and so China may be able to stand firm with its tariffs.  On the other hand, Monsanto may step in to once again save the day.

But as regards the production of soybeans, there is a great black swan looming in the not too distant future; one which may have an even more devasting effect on soybean farming than either global warming or tariffs….and that is lab grown meat.  As always, technology will revolutionize the world, and in the case of lab grown  or cultured meat,  grown from stem cells taken from live animals without the need for slaughter, it will replace the cruel and contaminated system of commercial farming, which makes human, animals and the earth itself unhealthy.Soybeans will lose their importance in the food chain, just as horses lost their importance with the invention of the automobile.  Food production would undergo a significant phase transition, which in turn would have a deep and profound effect on global trade.

Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.


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