Update again: The search for truth goes on: yesterday morning, I blogged a study from the Cornucopia Institute on the use of the neurotoxin hexane in production of soyburgers, which sparked a controversy n the comment thread about the science, focusing mostly on the question of whether any of the volatile hexane would still be present after the burgers made it to your shelf. For the record: I'm dubious about this objection, since in the absence of a study to the contrary, I think it makes sense to assume that the substances you put into food during production are still present at consumption. And of course, the release of hexane into the environment as part of the production of these "healthy alternatives" undermines the whole cause of improving health.
I posted a followup last night, after Xeni emailed me with a tip that the Cornucopia study had been funded by an agriculture think-tank/lobbying group called the Weston A Price Foundation. Based on that tip, I believed that I'd been had — just another example of a corporate subsidized "science" that concludes that the company's products are just dandy (or that its competitors' wares are bad for you).
But I was wrong. I've just spoken to Kiera Butler from Mother Jones, who has followed up with Cornucopia. Cornucopia promises that the Price foundation did not fund its research (and further, that none of its research is ever substantially funded by any concern or individual), and the principal researcher repeated her concern that there is no evidence that the hexane boils off before consumption, and that in any event, "health food" companies have no business emitting terrible toxic waste into the atmosphere (here's her update).
And I agree. And we were wrong. Xeni and I offer our sincerest apologies to both Cornucopia and the Price Foundation for publishing inaccurate information.
Update: Looks like I got spoofed: this study turns out to have been funded by an anti-vegetarian, pro-meat lobbying group, the Weston A Price Foundation. These are also the folks who say lard is good for you. Maybe the science is good, maybe it isn't (read the comments for good debate on it), but I sure feel a lot more suspicious about it than I did this morning. (Thanks, Xeni!)
PeaceLove sez, "Shocking Mother Jones article about a Cornucopia Institute report on how many of the most popular veggie burgers are made with hexane, a neurotoxic byproduct of gas refining."
In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate the oil from the protein. Says Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys, "If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane."
If you've heard about hexane before, it was likely in the context of gasoline–the air pollutant is also a byproduct of gas refining. But in 2007, grain processors were responsible for two-thirds of our national hexane emissions. Hexane is hazardous in the factory, too: Workers who have been exposed to it have developed both skin and nervous system disorders. Troubling, then, that the FDA does not monitor or regulate hexane residue in foods. More worrisome still: According to the report, "Nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane extracted."
Here's some of the soy brands that contain neurotoxins: "Boca Burger (conventional), Franklin Farms, Garden Burger, It's All Good Lightlife, Morningstar Farms, President's Choice, Taste Above, Trader Joe's, Yves Veggie Cuisine."
And here's some that are free from hexane: "Boca Burgers (Made with organic soy), Helen's Kitchen, Morningstar (Made with organic), Superburgers by Turtle Island, Tofurky, Wildwood."
This is one way in which the "organic" label is more than just a greenwash! On the other hand, anything labelled as "made with organic ingredients" instead of "organic" can have hexane or plutonium or whatever.
(Image: Danger, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from clearlyambiguous's photostream)