“Soyfood sales top $4 billion.”
That’s the news trumpeted by the soy industry in its latest market report “Soyfoods: The U.S. Market 2009.” Sales topped $4 billion in 2008 because “increasingly, knowledgeable consumers voted with their feet even as the financial crisis has set in.” (Interesting phrase there. Sounds to me like a prescription for “foot-in-mouth” disease.)
Seems that the image-conscious soy industry would have us believe that increased sales are due to “consumer awareness of health benefits.” That claim is debatable, however. Whether the new customers are knowledgeable, health conscious and willing to pay extra is subject to doubt given the fact that the same report indicates that most of the increased sales came heavily from soy’s “expanded presence in multiple distribution channels.” Specifically, that expansion has been into Wal-Mart, club stores and food service operations, places where soy sales grew in 2008 by 3 per cent as opposed to 1.8 percent in supermarkets and natural food stores. Food service operations are places where cost cutting and assembly line food production methods rule, as in school and hospital cafeterias, restaurant and hotel chains, the military. . . and prisons.
Although $4 billion represents a lot of soy sold and presumably eaten, the figure is a far cry from the $8 billion per year projected back in 2004. At that time, the industry had high hopes that the FDA would approve a soy-prevents-cancer health claim that would scare cancer-fearing American consumers into gobbling down twice the amount of soy. Instead the Solae Company (a joint venture of DuPont and Bunge) quietly withdrew its petition in 2005 in the face of massive evidence, presented by the Weston A. Price Foundation, that soy can cause, contribute to and accelerate the growth of cancer, particularly breast cancer. Although Solae promised to revise its petition and resubmit, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to anytime soon or ever.
Instead, the soy industry is dancing as fast as it can just to keep the 1999 soy-prevents-heart disease health claim in place. Even the mainstream American Heart Association is after the FDA to revoke it. Judging from this latest market report, the industry plan is keep the bad news under cover and repeat the mantra “health benefits” literally ad nauseum, until it is seared into mass consciousness. As the report states, “Health remains a main driver with soy products slipping into the mainstream . . .”
Meanwhile, we have a major confession from the National Institutes of Health. The agency actually admits it’s been supporting research on soy and health for many years but is clueless about if and when soy prevents or cures much of anything. Or has even been proven safe! After commissioning a thorough review of the literature (http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/soytp.htm), NIH found a “large but weak literature with equivocal findings” and “some troubling data about soy products used in research, which included confounding produced by unanticipated levels of phytoestrogens in animal feed” (Heindel et al. Environmental Health Perspectives 2008:116(3);389-393). In other words, to ascertain the benefits of soy, scientists compared its effects in animals to animals fed a control diet full of soy, a great way to hide the negative effects caused by soy feeding.
To help sort things out, the NIH plans a workshop for nutritionists, scientists, MDs, epidemiologists, biochemists and clinical trialists from academia, industry and government. Their job will be to figure out how to guide “the next generation of soy protein and isoflavone human research.” A key task is to identify methodological issues relative to exposures and interventions that may confound study results and interpretation and to find ways to deal effectively with these issues in the design, completion, reporting and interpretation of studies. NIH also hopes this group will address issues related to exposure to soy and other phytoestrogens, factors influencing variability of response and negative consequences of exposure. Sounds to us like a belated admission that soy might have a “dark side.”
Burcon NutraScience has just patented a soy protein isolate that should “be of great interest to food and beverage manufacturers currently dealing with high dairy protein prices.” Known as “Clarisoy,” it is described as having “exceptional flavor characteristics” and no odor. How these food products will be “healthy” is a mystery given the fact that Clarisoy is touted for its complete solubility and transparency in acidic solutions, tolerance of even the very acid pH of 2.5. and stability at high temperatures needed for “hot fill applications.” The announcement followed Burcon’s recent boast that it was the first to achieve GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status for use of its canola protein isolates Puratein® and SuperteinTM in food in the U.S. With all these new “commercializable products,” Burcon hopes its GRAS-feeding will result in a whole herd of healthy cash cows (http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/May2009/26/c7915.html).
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2009.