Soybeans arrived in America on a clipper ship from China in the early 1800’s. The beans had been used as ballast, a sort of counterweight to balance the vessel, and were unloaded to make room for cargo. A few farmers planted the beans, and by the turn of the century, many American farmers were growing the crop for animal feed.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. Soyfoods’ sales from 1992 to 2007 increased from $300 million to nearly $4 billion. This dramatic growth followed the FDA approval of a health claim linking soy with a reduction in coronary heart disease. While sales of soyfoods skyrocketed, rumors or strange new Frankenfoods began to circulate. Scientists had begun to splice DNA materials from disparate species into various food crops. To complicate matters, the USDA declined to require labeling of these genetically engineered foods.
The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of soybeans in the world. The first genetically engineered soybeans were planted in the U.S. in 1996. Now, more than 90% of the soy crop is GMO. Worldwide, 60 percent of soybeans are GMO varieties. A recent New York Times-CBS poll revealed that 53% of consumers said they would not buy genetically modified food. Consumers who wish to opt out of the experiment do have an option. They can buy organic.
Organic agricultural products have been grown and processed without chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic manipulation. Although soybeans are the largest segment of organic legumes they still represent less than 1% of total soybean production in the U.S. Once reserved as a staple for vegetarians, organic soy products are now finding their way onto the shopping lists of more traditional consumers, driven in part by the introduction of unlabeled GMO foods.
1Soyfoods: The U.S. Market 2008, published by Soyatech, Inc. and SPINS.
2 Biotechnology driving U.S. farm growth; Roberson, R., Penton Media January 2, 2008. http://www.agbios.com/static/news/NEWSID_9127.php
3 Organic Agriculture, Economic Research Service, USDA. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Organic