Every day in the United States there are many consumers who may unknowingly consume products with potentially hazardous ingredients – namely, isolated soy protein, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate etc. This ingredient is found in a wide range of products such as vegetarian hot dogs, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian cheeses, power bars, protein powders, and soy drinks. There are two potential hazards. One is that consumers may unknowingly be consuming soy protein manufactured in China and thus be running the risk of eating foods that are contaminated. The second hazard is that regardless of where the isolated soy protein is from, this is not a healthy ingredient.
Here are the facts:
- There is a little-known loophole in the consumer protection rules. In general, food products from foreign countries have to be labeled with their country of origin. Thus olive oil from Italy is marked as a product of Italy. There are several big exceptions to the labeling requirement. One is for products that undergo a “substantial transformation.” For example, a grape jelly manufacturer in the United States may buy Chilean grapes and not have to label their product as having a Chilean origin. Similarly, if a U.S maker uses imported isolated soy protein in their processed products, since the product undergoes a “substantial transformation,” the U.S. producer need not label their products as having imported ingredients.
- The Chinese are manufacturers and exporters of isolated soy protein. Since there was widespread, deliberate adulteration of vegetable proteins with toxic melamine used in pet food products; one must approach with skepticism any assurances that these products have not been included in human food. Dr. Gary Weaver of the University of Maryland has said, “Uncontrolled distribution of low-quality, imported food ingredients is a great threat to U.S. public health.”
- Regardless of the purity of the product, isolated soy protein, rather than being a health producing substance as many believe, should be treated as a cheap adulterant. It is a highly manufactured substance and bears little resemblance to healthy soy products such as tofu, miso, and tempeh. Tofu, miso and tempeh have been traditional foods in many Asian societies for thousands of years.
So what can the consumer do?
- Carefully read the label of products that you are currently using and see if they contain substances such as isolated soy protein.
- Question whether you need to continue using these products. Be especially careful if you or your children use these products on a daily basis.
- If you decide that you do need to use them, check if the isolated soy protein is organic. If it is, the chances are excellent that the product is of U.S. origin. Be careful: There are many products that are generally organic, but may have non-organic isolated soy protein.
- If the product contains non-organic isolated soy protein or similar ingredients, contact the manufacturer and ask for assurances that they are not using imported ingredients without labeling them. Do not buy products from companies that cannot give you these assurances.
- Eat less processed food, including so-called healthy processed food. Be skeptical of health promoting claims made by manufacturers of processed foods.
- Finally and most importantly, take responsibility for your own health. Do not assume that you can rely on the government to mandate adequate labeling of food products.