When multinational corporation Dean Foods acquired Silk soy milk, Midwestern farmers and farmers cooperatives were told they had to match the rock-bottom cost of Chinese organic soybeans -- a price they simply could not meet. Organic agriculture is labor-intensive, and China's edge comes largely from its abundance of cheap labor.
Silk bought Chinese soybeans for years, building a commanding share of the soy milk market, before substantially decreasing its support of organic agriculture altogether.
Few Silk products are certified organic anymore, and some are processed with hexane, a neurotoxin. While the green "USDA Organic" seal is gone, hexane-processed soymilk can still be labeled "natural," and if it contains organic ingredients, the label "made with organic ingredients" is still used.
Consumers buy organic for several reasons, including lighter environmental impact, cleaner and safer working conditions for farmworkers and the health benefits of organic foods. Unfortunately, the import-fueled corporatization of questionably organic food is making all of these attributes less likely.
Soy milk has gained an image as a healthy alternative to regular milk, but this image is one of a wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing.
Any soy that is unfermented -- soy milk, tofu, soybean oil, soy burgers, and all the other processed soy products out there all belong to this category -- is not a health food and in fact is not a food I would advise eating at all. This is true whether it is “organic” or not.
Unfermented soy products have been linked to everything from reproductive disorders and infertility to cancer and heart disease.
Another major problem with unfermented soy is that it contains natural toxins known as “antinutrients.” This includes a large quantity of inhibitors that deter your enzymes needed for protein digestion.
While a small amount of these antinutrients would likely not be a problem, the amount of soy that many Americans are now eating (and drinking in the form of soy milk) is quite significant.
The result of consuming too many of soy’s antinutrients is extensive gastric distress and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake, which can result in pancreatic impairment and cancer.
Unfermented soy is also loaded with phytoestrogens (isoflavones) genistein and daidzein. These compounds mimic and sometimes block the hormone estrogen, and have been found to have adverse effects on various human tissues.
Drinking even two glasses of soy milk daily for one month has enough of the chemical to alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, and although the FDA regulates estrogen-containing products, no warnings exist on soy or soy milk.
Soy phytoestrogens are also known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility and may promote breast cancer in women.
It’s very important that you make this distinction between unfermented and fermented soy, and ditch any and all unfermented soy products from your diet.
Soy foods only become healthy after a long fermentation process, during which the dangerous phytate and "antinutrient" levels of soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties are made available to your digestive system.
For more details on why soy’s health benefits only apply to fermented soy, please read this past article on why this type of soy is the only type you should be eating.
Who is Really Behind Silk’s Natural Image?
As multinational corporations continue to buy up once integrity-driven organic companies, the term “organic” is fast becoming nothing more than a marketing cliché.
Personally, I’m not surprised at this development; it was bound to happen. Massive food companies, as any other primarily profit-driven company, would not let a swelling market niche go untapped. But their involvement could have gone one of two ways.
With the involvement of large corporations, organic food has turned into a $16-billion business, with sales growing by as much as 20 percent per year. What this means for a lot of America is access to more organic foods, likely at lower prices.
Large corporations also have large advertising budgets, which means the idea of eating foods free from pesticides, genetically modified ingredients and raised in sustainable, humane ways is getting a lot of publicity whereas just a couple of decades ago it was next to unheard of.
The downside, of course, is that instead of maintaining and promoting the sustainable and healthy farming practices that the organic movement was founded on, agribusiness is gradually turning “organic” into the type of industry it does best: one that produces the most amount of food for the least amount of money.
And if this means switching their soybean supplier from the United States to China, where safety regulations for “organic” foods are highly questionable, food quality is likely lower and labor is cheap, so be it.
Sadly, when Dean Foods acquired Silk soy milk, they could have prompted more U.S. farmers to jump on the organic bandwagon; a move that would have led to more organic acreage and increased support for the entire movement. Instead, they made it nearly impossible for U.S. organic farmers to compete with the low “Chi-ganic” prices, and at the same time threw away any hopes of U.S. non-organic farmers moving into the organic sector.
Your Favorite Organic Brands Are Likely Shills for Agribusiness
Many of the same corporations that make the biggest junk food offenders -- soda, potato chips, sugary cereals, candy, etc. -- are also behind many of the most well-known organic food brands.
Dean Foods, General Mills, Unilever, Mars, Kraft, Pepsi and Kellogg are just a few of the major agribusiness companies feasting on their share of the organic pie.
Did you know that Boca is owned by Kraft? That Naked Juice is completely controlled by Pepsi? That General Mills runs Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen?
And you can rest assured that these seemingly wholesome branded foods are not being churned out by a small farm or mom-and-pop shop nestled in a pristine valley.
Organic Does Not Always Equal “Healthy”
Many people are getting hooked on the idea that organic equals healthy, but don’t stop long enough to make a distinction between raw food and processed food, and to ask themselves this vital question: Are organic soda and organic potato chips REALLY healthy snack options?
The obvious answer is no. Organic versions of junk food are STILL just as detrimental to your health as their original counterparts.
The bottom line is to make sure you don’t get swept up in the new organic marketing trend. Yes, you can now purchase organic soda to go along with your organic pizza and organic garlic bread … but will eating these foods make you healthy? No they will not.
Further, depending on which organic companies you choose to buy from, you are no longer supporting the small organic farms you may think you are supporting. Instead, you may be padding the pockets of Kraft, Pepsi or General Mills.
And if your organic produce came from China, well recent actions by the USDA indicate there’s probably a 50/50 chance they don’t meet organic standards.
Additionally, a significant element of the organic ideal is environmental sustainability and protection, but at least one study has found that the transportation of organic produce causes an environmental impact large enough to cancel out any of its environmental benefits.
So how can you be sure that your organic food is coming from a company with integrity and sustainable values, one that will not sell out its farmers the way Dean Foods did to Silk?
The key, as always, is getting informed. If you are interested in supporting the real organic movement, you often need look no further than your local farmer’s market.
Eight Ground Rules to Find Healthy, Sustainable Food
It’s easy to become discouraged with the entire business of organics, and begin to fret about ever being able to get your hands on truly healthy food. But remember, the ground rules for healthy food shopping have never changed, only the labels have.
So whatever food you’re looking to buy, whether imported organic or locally grown, from either your local supermarket or a farmer’s market, here are the signs of a high-quality, healthy food:
It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
It’s not genetically modified
It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
It does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives
It is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option)
It did not come from a factory farm
It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants. Also, this means it was not transported thousands of miles to be on your table if a local source is available.)
If the food meets these criteria, it is likely a good choice. The bottom line is that you need to look deeper than a label when it comes to your food. Most often, the best place to find these foods are from a sustainable agricultural group in your area.
Of course, if you want total control you could do what many of my readers have already done: start your own organic garden.