November 2nd, 2012
By John Bauer, Co-Founder – The Foodery
We hear how soy is healthy. More people are drinking soy milk, eating soy burgers and buying tofu in hopes of eating healthier sources of protein. People choose soy to avoid casein protein and lactose in milk while others substitute soy for meat to avoid saturated fats. Some choose soy for animal rights beliefs. On the flipside, studies say soy has its downsides. We’re hearing how recent studies uncovered how soy can elevate estrogen levels in humans and cause reproductive and fertility problems in women. Animal studies are showing complications in early-life development in mice and rats. Long-term studies of human consumption of soy are only underway. As soy becomes more pervasive in food, these studies will become even more important. Then there’s the fact that soy grown in the Americas (accounting 80% of world production) is almost 100% genetically modified. More on that in a minute. Deriving a “healthy or not healthy” conclusion to soy is not the point of this article. What will be examined are the not-so-obvious yet pernicious methods of producing soybeans at the cost of both human health and the environment.
Soy Is Everywhere. Why?
Americans today ingest far more soy than they intend to consume. Taking a close look at ingredient lists on food labels, it’s surprising to find how most packaged and processed foods contain some derivative of soy (I recently found orange soda at a chain grocery store containing “modified soybean oil”). Even foods like fresh meats and poultry that don’t come with an ingredient label are likely from animals rose eating a soy-based diet. The fact is, soy is ubiquitous in America. Soybeans were non-existent on American soil back in 1770. They were a Chinese crop. It wasn’t until 1851 that soybean seeds were distributed to farmers in Illinois and the Corn Belt states. Then In 1879, American farmers began feeding soybeans to livestock. By the turn of the century, the government began its involvement in the domestic soy industry with the US Department of Agriculture conducting tests and encouraging soybeans as animal feed. In 1904, American scientists discovered that soybeans are a source of protein and oil and in 1919 the American Soybean Association was founded. In 1933, the federal government got involved in the agriculture business in a big way with Congress enacting the first Farm Bill (under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal). From there, government and industry continued to promote the soy industry through subsidies and loans while soy began venturing down its unsustainable path. Every five or so years, US Congress assembles to vote on the Farm Bill. To influence legislation, big companies hire lobbyists to push for a Farm Bill that will create an economic advantage for the companies who lobby. In the Farm Bill, subsidies get granted that artificially and perpetually push the price of soy below its market price (along with other production crops like corn, sugar and cotton). Once this economic advantage becomes imbedded in the industry by lawmakers, the ingenuity and creativity begins. Bio-chemical companies invent ways to create pesticides that increase the tonnage production of soybeans per acre. Food manufacturers look to increase their profits by researching and experimenting infinite ways to use soy in products without violating food safety laws. 1940 was a pivotal year for the soybean industry as it exploded to fulfill the global demand for soybeans during WWII. Farm animals of all types were taken off their natural grass and hay diets and fed corn and soybeans. America today is the largest global producer of soy and with Argentina and Brazil, the Americas account for 80% of global soy production. Global production in 2003 was 180M tons and is expected to grow to 300M tons by 2020. Soy is now everywhere and as an American staple, it has become a common ingredient today in food, ink, paint, crayons and plastic.
What’s Wrong With Eating Soy?
As with most natural foods, consuming soy in moderation is probably healthy. The key word is natural. Why? Because one thing is for certain – genetically modified soy (almost all American soy) has both obvious and unknown risks. Not because it’s soy but because it’s genetically modified soy. When a soybean seed has been genetically altered, it’s been changed through cell-invasion technology for only one reason – to increase the profits of the producer. Unfortunately this creates a health risk to the consumer. The genetic code of almost all soybeans in America has been modified to resist the toxicity of the pesticide RoundUp. Monsanto, the biggest genetic modification and food chemical company in the world owns the patent to the RoundUp herbicide as well as the patent to the genetically modified seed that allows soybean plants to grow after being doused with the Roundup herbicide. How does this increase the profits of the producer? Simple – labor. If the farmer can kill anything alive in his acres of soybean plants except the soybeans, he doesn’t have much weeding to do. This allows him to use factory farm equipment on
perfect rows of soybeans that won’t be slowed down by weeds and pests. What does genetic modification do for the consumer? Nothing good. What might be okay is eating soybeans in their natural form. What’s not okay is eating soy products derived from soybeans with altered DNA and doused in chemicals before they were harvested. To add insult to injury, Mother Nature always finds a way to win. Through natural evolution, weeds have found a way to grow in a chemical environment. And they have. Since 1996 when genetically modified soybeans came to be, the use of glyphosate (the chemical name for RoundUp herbicide) has grown rampant. Farmers are spraying RoundUp, re-spraying and spraying it again as “super weeds” grow back stronger in the face of what once seemed to be the “sliver bullet” to weed problems in large-scale agricultural production. Where does this leave the consumer? The obvious health risk from chemical exposure is blindly accepted everyday by most Americans as their exposure to consuming soy is pervasive in fast food, processed food, animal products and many products marketed as healthy like protein bars and weight-loss drinks. But wait, there’s another risk beyond chemical exposure. What about the genetically modified food being eaten? These foods pose unknown risks as long-term human health studies have not been done. So far, only mammals with much shorter lives like mice have had multi-generational health impact studies done on them. The outlook for humans is still not clear but the tests done on these mice are not promising. Animals are showing side effects including tumor growth, reproductive organ development abnormalities and infertility just to name a few.
Growing Crops is Good For The Environment. What’s Wrong With Growing Soy?
The Americas account for 80% of soy production. And the biggest growth opportunity for more soy is in South America where farmers deforest the pristine Amazon jungle and replace it with miles of “gold desert” funded by a handful of multinational soybean companies. Industries have moved into the rainforest while governments have remained silent. The result? Hundreds of farmers have been displaced through the purchase of their land or in many cases, a hostile takeover of the farmland. Not only is the soy takeover harming the forests and extricating the native culture of the people but it is creating ecological changes that could potentially be global in their impact. If the trend continues its course, more of the Amazon jungle could turn into many square miles of genetically modified soy. This will, of course, be paired with the expanding application of RoundUp. This chemical kills not only weeds but all the microorganisms that make rich, organic, nutrient-dense soil. When chemical farming practices occupy acres of land year after year, the health of the soil continues to erode. What was once soil that had the nutrients to grow massive trees in the jungle barely has enough nutrition in it to support a 2-foot tall soybean plant. As the soil loses its beneficial microorganisms, chemical fertilizers are the only tool left to stimulate the growth of a monocultured crop. As of now, an area the size of France has been leveled in the Amazon. We suffer not only an atmospheric imbalance and water vapor loss from the disappearing vegetation but what’s gone is one of the richest and most biodiverse places in the world. The Amazon jungle has never been studied in its entirety so what unknown species have been lost can never be recovered. Some studies predict that at the current rate of deforestation taking place, the Amazon jungle could be largely gone in 30 to 40 years. A huge price to pay for a single crop that fuels industries causing obesity, climate change and rapid depletion of fresh water resources.
How Do I Make Better Choices About Soy Products?
The choice is easy. When deciding which soy product to consume, choose products marked with the green organic seal. Organic products by law are grown without the use of genetic modification. Without genetic modification, RoundUp cannot be sprayed on a plant. Products marked organic are not allowed to have harmful chemicals of any kind sprayed on them. Choosing organic soy products is a “vote” for healthier soy products for your body and healthy farming practices for the environment. Throughout the entire production chain of soybeans from the chemicals used to grow them and the seeds engineered to resist the chemicals, to the companies and governments chasing short-term gain over long-term conservation, soy has become a crop with far-reaching tentacles. Become an informed consumer and be able to identify the food products that will both nourish your body and sustain a healthy planet. ~ F
© 2012 The Foodery. The Foodery delivers fresh-made meals to those who find it challenging to meal-plan, shop and cook nourishing meals for themselves. Meals are made from 100% organic produce, sustainably-raised proteins and healthy carbohydrates. Genetic modification is a farming practice not supported by The Foodery.