Because of the soybean’s incredible profitability, many U.S. farmers shifting as much as four million of their six million available acres from corn crops to soybeans. While corn fetches a good price at $4 a bushel, soybeans sell for $11 a bushel and more — nearly twice as much as the price last year.
And this in spite of the fact that the overall popularity of soy-based consumer goods is trending downwards. Some consumers, at least, must be reading the increasing studies linking soy protein to deadly maladies — like the January 2006 announcement in the journal Circulation by none other than the AHA (American Heart Association) that soy does not lower cholesterol, does not prevent heart disease and does not deserve an FDA-approved soy heart health claim.
Number four on Michael Pollan’s "what-to-eat list" at the conclusion of his newest book, In Defense of Food, is "Avoid food products that carry health claims". He says that the American diet is in the grip of nutritionism. Once we start thinking about what we eat as only the sum of its nutrient parts (his term: "reductionist ideology") and begin focusing on protein, fiber and fat, he writes, we cede our understanding of food to the experts — since only scientists (and their popularizes, nutritionists and journalists) can explain the hidden realities of foods to us. Could this have happened in the case of SOYBEANS?
Many processed products marketed from soybeans are linked to cancer (especially breast cancer), reduced immunity, thyroid dysfunction, calcium deficits, reproductive disorders and mental decline according to Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD (The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food). I’m happy to say it’s one of the few health fads I just couldn’t swallow when it was first introduced in the ’60s. The taste was foul and lots of sweeteners and flavor enhancers had to be added. And then "bean-eaters" often seemed to be attended by an intermittent odor indicating maldigestion. But when there’s a profit to be turned, empirical observations that lead to health concerns needing sensible action become clouded. According to Farm Futures Magazine, soybean acreage will jump by six million this year. I hope they use all of it for soy-based ink, one of its finer applications.
Soybeans are cheaper to grow than corn, which just adds to their profitability. A recent University of Illinois study probably funded by Carghill or ADM ("supermarket to the world") projected that the cost of growing the average acre of corn was about $330. For soybeans, the cost was only $200. Agri-Biz teams with Ag-Universities working to make policy according to reductionist principles to make the big picture myopic for long enough to seduce too many earnest and smart-too-late husbandmen.
So here we go ’round the Mulberry bush again nearly 50 years later — surely it’s withered by now. Soy prices were skyrocketing in the 1960’s-70’s in response to the boom in the vegetarian/health food market. Farmers cleared land of centuries old trees, drained swamps, plowed, tilled, fertilized and sprayed pesticides. We now know, after half a century, that this undoubtedly contributed heavily to the extinction of many species of birds and aquatic life … and for what exactly?
Perhaps we don’t want to discover what other extinctions that another booming market for a product as reduced as the soybean might bring?
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