What About GM Soya?

Soya is used in many vegan products, including non-dairy milks and cheeses, meat substitutes and tofu. With concerns surrounding GMOs growing daily, people are prone to panic upon hearing a product contains soya, mistakenly assuming that it will always be genetically modified soya. This is not necessarily true.

Soya is just a bean and the same as any other food is best eaten as close to natural as possible. Edamame, the fresh soya bean, is delicious on salads or with rice. Photo © Dreamstime Vtorous

Are Vegan Products Free From GM Soya?

Due to the growing ethical, environmental and health concerns surrounding genetically modified foods, ethical companies are taking steps to exclude GMO’s from their product offerings. As a result you will find the vast majority of vegan products and many vegan by accident products do not contain GM soya.

VBites Foods, formerly known as Redwood Wholefoods Company, states:

“Until the ethical, scientific and safety bases for gene manipulation is proven, Redwood will never use GMOs in any of its products. This has lead to reformulation where necessary and the need to resource certain Soya products with a certifiable provenance.”
— VBites Foods

Located in the Scotland, the makers of Sheese Vegan Cheese are also very clear on the issue:

“We only use soya from an IP source (Identity Preserved). The IP system is used to trace the soya from seed, all the way through the production process, and it is used to ensure that the soya is GMO-free as well as very good quality.”
Bute Island Foods

South Africans can find GM-free soya products at Fry’s Vegetarian and Good Hope International Beverages, or try the organic soya milk from Woolworths.

The non-vegan company, WhiteWave Foods also takes the matter of GMOs seriously.

“Every product we offer is enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, which means a third party verifies our testing and GMO controls to make sure we meet the Project’s high standards for non-GMO foods.”
— Silk

WhiteWave’s other plant-based brand, Alpro, details their policy as follows:

“We use a traceability system to ensure that all our products and ingredients avoid contamination with genetically modified organisms. The system is approved and monitored by independent auditors Cert ID, an independent auditing group recommended by the British Retail Consortium.”

Where Does All The GM Soya Go?

By 2012, 94% of soy in the US was from GM crops (USDA). Over half of the world’s 2007 soybean crop (58.6%) was genetically modified. And 90 to 100% of soy products imported by South Africa are likely to be derived from GM soybeans. So where does the GM soya go?

Excessive demand for animal products results in the bloated animal agriculture industry requiring large volumes of soya to feed the animals farmed for human consumption. According to US based SoyTech, “Approximately 98% of the soybean meal that is crushed is further processed into animal feed.”

Moreover, for those flexitarians who think that giving up red meat will help them escape the effects of GM crops, think again. According to the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, “Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed are fed to poultry.”

Which leaves us with the undeniable conclusion: if you consume animal products, then you are almost certainly consuming GM soya.

In addition, if you consume processed food, then you are also exposing yourself to GM soya. Bill Freese from the Center for Food Safety says “60-70% of processed foods have ingredients derived from GMOs”. Due to the hidden animal derived ingredients, and contrary to public opinion, it is far less likely for vegans to consume processed food than it is for omnivores.

Is Organic Soya Ever Genetically Modified?

Organic producers are prohibited from the use of GMOs in organic production. So a good rule of thumb when buying soya products, is to only buy those labelled as organic. It should naturally follow that the product is also GMO free. However, if you want to split hairs, there are instances where cross-pollination has occurred, and there is a chance the organic farmer’s seed may have become contaminated by neighbouring GM crops.

Is GM Soya Ever Vegan Certified?

Although this is probably never the case, it is interesting to note that vegan certified products do not have to be entirely GM-free. Even if the soya is genetically modified, as long as the DNA has not been altered using animal or insect DNA, then it is still vegan. This may sound shocking to the anti-GM lobby, however, these are two separate issues and should not be confused.

The development and/or production of genetically modified organisms (GMO) must not have involved animal genes or animal-derived substances. Products put forward for registration which contain or may contain any GMOs must be labelled as such.
— The Vegan Society ‘Trademark Standards’

Back to Vegan Basics

The concerns surrounding genetically modified organisms entering our food systems are vitally relevant. However, we need to be careful not to give out mixed messages by labelling GM soya as not being vegan. These are two separate matters.

Being vegan does not make it compulsory for you to be a superhero, fighting corruption at every turn. Veganism relates to not eating, wearing or using animals. Our priority, as vegans, is to save the lives of animals.

Feel free to touch base with me for more information on a vegan lifestyle.


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