Soy has been at the center of controversy for some time. Long considered a staple health food and indispensable protein source for vegetarians, the ubiquity of this diverse bean has also been linked with health issues, clear-cutting rain forests, and now a new concern has cropped up: the presence of a highly neuro-toxic petrochemical compound called hexane.
A report and Youtube video (below) released by consumer watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute, is targeted at helping consumers clearly identify hexane-free soy sources.
Hexane is used in the processing method of soy ingredients; commonly in making soy protein isolates and concentrates, which are used in everything from energy bars to frozen foods. The whole soybeans are bathed in synthetic petroleum-based solvents including hexane, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify as a neurotoxin, and the Environmental Protection Agency deems a hazardous air pollutant.
Organic classification forbids the use of hexane-extracted soy ingredients, but it's not as cut and dry as it would seem. A particularly alarming example comes from eco-organic darlings, Clif bar (they also manufacturer Luna bars for women), who boast organic claims on their products by meeting the minimal 70 percent of ingredients, which includes whole organic soybeans. Of those 30 percent non-organic ingredients though, is hexane-extracted isolated soy protein.
Lagging behind other industrialized countries, the U.S. has not yet set legal limits of hexane residues allowable in foods, nor require food companies to test finished products for hexane levels.
Many manufacturers, such as Turtle Island, makers of Tofurky, the vegan faux-turkey Thanksgiving godsend, use only hexane-free soy ingredients. But with clever marketing and little information on the issue, consumers simply don't know what they're getting. Clif bar is a telling example. Known for their company ethos and environmental commitment, their use of a polluting neurotoxin alongside organic soybeans might indicate that the misinformation on this process is something manufacturers haven't even had their eyes opened to yet.
Mark Kastel, Co-director of The Cornucopia Institute agrees, “This is exactly what we’d hoped our research would be used for, not only to shift market share, but to encourage manufacturers to evaluate their sourcing and make improvements. These are ethical business that we hope will be rewarded in the marketplace.”
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Photo by Clearly Ambiguous courtesy of Creative Commons