Here is a very short article from WSJ.com that might interest you. Soybeans are in demand for animal feed (especially the cows, pigs, and chicken sold in American grocery stores) as well as for the soybean by-products found in almost all processed food. We are also increasingly using soybean oil in biodiesel. I saw a biodiesel VW Beetle this weekend with a bumper sticker saying, "Biodiesel. No War Required." Great but, unless you're using biodiesel made from used cooking oil, there's still a high cost. The soaring demand for soybeans has led Brazilians to increase the rate at which they are cutting down acres of rainforest in order to use the land for soybean cultivation.
How very sad. I remember walking past The Nature Company at Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek as an elementary, junior high, and high school student. They had a meter outside that resembled a parking meter. You could deposit a quarter (or something smaller, I suppose) and "save" acres of rainforest. If we knew then, at least twenty years ago, that rainforest devastation would have such negative consequences, how is it still going on? I know I push my free market beliefs on my blog, but even I have the sense to know that we can't let this continue. If we, as consumers, aren't smart enough to stop buying products requiring soy, then someone else has to step in and fix this. Maybe it is up to the Brazilian government to quit turning a blind eye or maybe somebody like Yvon Chouinard (of Patagonia) will buy the whole Amazon and staff it with armed guards. Clearly, it's in dire need of protection.