by Siobhan Carleton-Green and Ion Holban
If you are reading this then you are part of an increasing number of people buying soya products. Chances are that you could be a vegetarian that either for health or environmental reasons is considering soya as an alternative source of protein to meat. At New Environmentalist we want to encourage people to lower their carbon footprint and eat less meat, but is soya a viable alternative? We thought it would be interesting to see where the mainstream supermarkets got the Soya for their own brand vegetarian products, and we have also asked two producers that specialise in Soya and vegetarian products.
The two questions that we asked were:
- Where is the Soya grown?
- Is it non-genetically modified?
Both these answers are not available on most of the packaging. Knowing if our food has been genetically altered is something that we all need to be aware of, so that we can take the decision ourselves as to whether we want to consume that product. Similarly, if we wish to reduce our carbon footprint in the West, knowing how far our food has had to travel before reaching our plate can make a big difference to which product we choose. The responses we received back from the supermarkets can be seen below:
Sainsbury’s – Love Soya
Sainsbury’s Love Soya products are sourced from the USA and Canada, but they were not able to give us a particular location or supplier. However Sainsbury added that they “don’t allow the use of GM crops, ingredients, additives or derivatives in our own-brand food, drink, pet food, dietary supplements and floral products.” They also “work closely with our suppliers to ensure that our GM policy is followed at every step.”
Tesco – own brand
The customer service desk was not very forthcoming when asked about where their Soya was grown or if it was non GM, we were told to “Google it”. After some extensive searching of their website we finally found this statement:
“In the UK, our own-brand soy products come only from sustainable, non-GM sources.
We are signatories of the Brazilian moratorium on the sourcing of soy from the Amazon, which has been successful in reducing deforestation from soy production.
Our internal systems track all soy-related ingredients to ensure they come from a non-GM source outside of the Amazon biome.
We also track the soy used as animal feed by our meat suppliers through FEMAS – an independent assurance scheme for feed – and can trace this back to a source outside the Amazon biome. This system also guarantees non-GM poultry feed for both meat and eggs.”
The customer service here also had a lot to be desired, the lady we spoke to could not find the information we were looking for but suggested we go to the desk in store and ask them. If she can’t find the information how will a person in store fare any better?
After searching on Asda’s various websites we thought we had found something but the page had been deleted. A little more digging and a possible answer emerged: Asda is part of the Round Table Responsible Soya (RTRS) an association that certifies Soya produce as sustainable. However it considers GM Soya as sustainable. We are therefore currently unable to verify that its Soya products are GM free.
Marks and Spencer’s
M&S stated: “We are the only retailer in theUKto continue to maintain a non-GM policy for all of our food ingredients and animal feed for fresh meat, poultry, farmed fish and standard milk. Our non-GMO feed policy has been in place since 2000 and our food ingredient policy has been in place since 1999.” However they could not confirm where their Soya was grown.
The Redwood Whole food – Vegideli
Redwood responded to our query very rapidly and their response was reassuring:
“All our Soya is ethically sourced from Europe with all suppliers having to provide proof of being GMO free before being considered as a supplier.”
Redwood also provided their GMO Policy:
“The question of Genetically Modified Products is becoming more and more to the fore as time passes.
The ethical and scientific bases for the development of gene manipulation in the company’s opinion have yet to be proven.
Accordingly Redwood as a company making foods in the healthy eating arena have approached the whole issue from the standpoint of not using GMO’s in our products. This has lead to reformulation where necessary and the need to resource certain Soya products with a certifiable provenance. The company has now completed this task and is capable of complying with any label changes which are forthcoming and will not have to declare the presence of GMO’s, in line with the EC Regulations 1829/2003.
It is and will remain company policy not to supply products with GMO’s.”
Provamel was also very quick to respond:
“Please rest assured that Soya beans used in Provamel products are not bought on the commodity market so we have full traceability and can assure consumers they’re completely GM free.
The countries from where we purchase our beans are Canada, China, Brazil and Southern Europe. Our Brazilian beans are grown in farms in the region south of Sao Paulo away from the rain forest area.”
Supermarkets over the last few years have been making good progress in implementing more transparency into the origins of their products, but so far soya seems to have been forgotten. While most of the sellers are able to say that their soya is not genetically modified we find it disappointing that they are unable to tell us precisely were their Soya comes from. For example, most shops can track exactly who grows their carrots and display this information on the packaging, so why can they not make the same effort with their soya products?
Based on our investigation, we are summarising below some of the potential issues with soya products in the UK:
- The packaging of soya products does not always clearly indicate the countries of origin
- The carbon footprint of soya produced in Brazil, US, Canada or China can be so high that the product no longer represents an ethical alternative to meat
- We are concerned that exporters of certified soya for the UK market, such as US, Brazil and Canada also happen to be the largest exporters of GM soya
Only a small percentage of soya products on the UK market are produced in Europe and certified in line with the EC Regulations 1829/2003.
It is clear that soya products have become a major source of income for retailers and a viable protein alternative for many vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Soya however remains a controversial choice: a welcomed one when ethically sourced but unfortunately also an environmentally damaging product when grown on former rain forests in Brazil, genetically modified in the US or unsustainably grown in China. Similarly, when soya products are marketed as an ethical vegetarian alternative to meat, then we believe that these products should be sourced and certified in the EU, and not on distant continents.
If companies like Redwood and Provamel can trace their Soya back to the source why can’t the others? Unfortunately, until the sellers make it clear on their packaging how their soya is sourced then we are no closer to making an informed decision on the question.
We will advise the sellers of our findings and demand greater transparency in their soya products.
You can also get involved by writing to your local supermarket/supplier asking them to:
- update their labeling to clearly state on packaging the origin of their soya
- have their soya produced within the European Union to lower its carbon footprint
Please find links below to further reading and references: