Importing food damages domestic environment: Evidence from global soybean trade

Author(s):

Jing Sun, Harold Mooney, Wenbin Wu, Huajun Tang, Yuxin Tong, Zhenci Xu, Baorong Huang, Yeqing Cheng, Xinjun Yang, Dan Wei, Fusuo Zhang and Jianguo Liu

Journal or Book Title: PNAS

Keywords: agriculture; environment; nitrogen; Sustainable Development Goals; telecoupling

Volume/Issue: Online

Year Published: 2018

Abstract:

Protecting the environment and enhancing food security are among the world’s Sustainable Development Goals and greatest challenges. International food trade is an important mechanism to enhance food security worldwide. Nonetheless, it is widely concluded that in international food trade importing countries gain environmental benefits while exporting countries suffer environmental problems by using land and other resources to produce food for exports. Our study shows that international food trade can also lead to environmental pollution in importing countries. At the global level, our meta-analysis indicates that there was increased nitrogen (N) pollution after much farmland for domestically cultivated N-fixing soybeans in importing countries was converted to grow high N-demanding crops (wheat, corn, rice, and vegetables). The findings were further verified by an intensive study at the regional level in China, the largest soybean importing country, where the conversion of soybean lands to cornfields and rice paddies has also led to N pollution. Our study provides a sharp contrast to the conventional wisdom that only exports contribute substantially to environmental woes. Our results suggest the need to evaluate environmental consequences of international trade of all other major goods and products in all importing countries, which have significant implications for fundamental rethinking in global policy-making and debates on environmental responsibilities among consumers, producers, and traders across the world.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1718153115

Type of Publication: Journal Article

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