I saw a blurb on a political blog about hexane in soybeans, and obviously, it made me go do a little bit of digging. I know meat-substitutes have plenty of issues, but this was something I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. Hexane? Really? Apparently. Yikes.
Anyway, the digging led me to the Cornucopia Institute’s report Behind The Bean, which I have to say I’m finding interesting for a number of reasons. From their website:
The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report and accompanying Scorecard rates companies that market organic soy foods, such as soymilk, tofu and “veggie burgers,” based on ten criteria that are important to organic consumers… The scorecard sheds light on questions such as:
– Do the soybeans come from American organic farmers, or are they imported from China, India or South America?
– Is the company devoted to supporting organic agriculture by sourcing only organic soybeans and marketing only organic products?
– Does the company use loopholes in the organic standards to source cheaper non-organic ingredients even when organic ones are available?
Part I of the comprehensive report explores the reasons for asking these questions, including why organic consumers should be wary of Chinese imports, given the lax oversight by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over organic certifiers working in China.
Part II of the report exposes the “dirty little secret” of the “natural” soy foods industry: the widespread use of hexane in processing. Hexane is strictly prohibited in organic food processing, but is used to make “natural” soy foods and even some that are “made with organic ingredients,”. Hexane is a neurotoxic petrochemical solvent that is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
You can find a copy of the scorecard HERE
However, back to the hexane question… Apparently Hexane is a petrochemical solvent commonly used in conventional food processing to extract the oils from foods like corn, canola, and soybeans. It is prohibited in organic foods, but because of the loopholes in FDA regulations, some foods labeled organic may, in fact, still contain it. This is one of those times I feel kind of dumb for not knowing that, but also kind of wish I hadn’t read it just now. Hi, where’s that pile of sand, please? ; )
Anyway, in addition to possible residues in food products, hexane is also released into the air during processing. The EPA does consider hexane to be a toxic pollutant, and does regulate it to some extent, but according to the report, In the state of Illinois alone, food processors ADM, Cargill, Bunge, and others release almost 5 million pounds of hexane yearly. It’s hard to have a framework for what those numbers really mean, but that seems like a lot no matter how you slice it. Especially if you work in one of those factories or live nearby.
One other list I found interesting came from Skin Deep, a website known for listing ingredients found in common beauty products. According to their site, hexane has been banned for use in cosmetics in Canada and the European Union. You can scroll down and see how it is and isn’t regulated in different uses and countries. For instance, the US allows 2.2% by weight in hops.
Anyway, if you want to read more about the use of hexane, as well as some other really interesting information about the other social, environmental and health impacts of the soy industry, there’s a hefty PDF file available at this link to download.
Back to that scorecard- one thing I really appreciated about it was that in the case of companies who refused to respond, they give the company info and encourage consumers to contact the company and ask them to disclose this information. Gardenburger declined to respond to the survey, so I’ll be sending them a letter.
That said, I think I’m also going to figure out how to make my own freezable veggie-burgers. Stay tuned for a recipe!