If there is anything to be learned from America’s industrial food machine (in case you missed Food Inc. and other seminal critiques), it is this: nothing can be trusted. Until recently, many vegetarians have been all too happy to jump on the veggie burger bandwagon for a yummy protein fix, believing in earnest that theirs was a healthy choice that benefits the environment. Including me.
But a recent report published by the non-profit organization Cornucopia Institute reveals that most non-organic soybean-based goods produced in the United States are bathed in a highly explosive mix of petrochemicals that are used to extract the soy protein. And hardly anybody seems concerned to address what could be a public health nightmare.
In the 1950s, the United States abandoned the former practice of extracting soy protein mechanically (using pressure) in favor of a newer, more aggressive method. Now, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, and textured soy protein are all soaked in chemicals that separate out soy oil from what E Magazine calls “defatted soy flour” that is then processed even further.
These chemical baths typically consist of 50-60% n-hexane, a heavy industrial solvent and degreaser, along with a remaining mixture of cyclohexane, methycyclohexane and methypentanes – none of which sound especially delicious.
A gulp of Hexane
The European Union only permits the sale of soy products that have less than 10 parts per million hexane residue, but the United States has no such restriction. Nor is it necessary for producers in the US to test whether their products contain traces of harmful petrochemicals. As a result, it is unknown to what extent consumers are being exposed to them.
Cornucopia recently set out to get an idea. They submitted soy samples to an independent lab, which discovered soy protein containing 22 and 14 parts per million hexane each. But studies demonstrating their carcinogenic properties or the consequence of oral exposure, according to E, are still lacking.
The Seedy Side of Soy
But here is what we do know: higher than usual numbers of brain tumors have been reported in people who work in the protein-extracting industry.
Highly explosive and responsible for killing plant workers and drivers who transport it, hexane is also linked to polyneurophathy (muscle weakness, nerve damage) and global warming. E magazine suggests that in 2009, soy and grain production using hexane, which is an air pollutant, issued 19 million tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.
Adults might take their chances and eat soy-based foods such as fitness bars, tofu, soy milk, and soy cheese, but for babies, the prospect is particularly insidious. Enfamil, Similac, and Nestle all rely on hexane to extract protein from soy products, while Vermont Organics, Earth Best, and Baby’s Only in the United States offer much more wholesome alternatives.
Why do companies insist upon bathing food products in neurotixins (and why is the American government reluctant to enforce better controls?) Money. Extracting protein from soy chemically is more efficient than doing the same using mechanical pressure, and it’s cheaper.
Unless you’re eating USDA-certified organic veggie burgers and tofurkey, which ensures that no chemicals have been used, we definitely recommend our readers consider a safer method of obtaining protein.
:: E Magazine
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