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BEANS BEFORE GREENS

China’s taste for meat is reshaping Brazil’s economy—and its environment

By Nikhil Sonnad, Tony Lin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This story is part of an ongoing series on how China is reshaping our world.

What does a meat market in China have to do with Brazilian soybean farms? A whole lot, it turns out.

Chinese diners are consuming more meat than ever, pork in particular. All those pigs have to eat, too, and overwhelmingly their main food source is soybeans.

Chinese consumers’ demand for meat has a gravitational pull that is drawing in the world’s soybean-growing countries, Brazil in particular. From 2000 to 2016, China’s soy imports from Brazil increased by 2,000%. In the short-term, this is all well and good. One of Brazil’s biggest industries has a near-insatiable buyer for a product the country is good at producing.

Further down the road, though, the warping effect of China’s gravity could do more harm than good. The need for more land on which to grow soybeans is leading Brazil to cut down its forests. And an over-reliance on commodities like soy is making it harder for Brazil to diversify and upgrade its economy, something experts say it badly needs to do.

Quartz went to Brazil for the latest installment of Because China, our video series on how the world’s newest superpower is changing everything. We visited soy farms, talked to farmers, indigenous leaders, conservationists, and economists, to find out how Chinese demand at this scale is changing entire nations—even ones as large and diverse as Brazil.

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