Soy What? Soybean Growers Win Back Place at Troop Dining Table

April 4, 2018Roxana Tiron & Teaganne Finn

Congress wants a few more cooks in the kitchen deciding which ingredients U.S. troops shouldn’t be allowed to eat.

A provision tucked into the fiscal 2018 spending package (Public Law 115-141) prevents the Pentagon from unilaterally deciding which ingredients in troops’ meals are harmful. It’s a victory particularly for soybean farmers and purveyors, who last year found themselves on the defense.

The Defense Logistics Agency, which is tasked with troop support, issued a notice last August requesting the disclosure of banned ingredients in food provided to the military. Soy products dominated that list, stirring an uproar in the food industry and prompting the agency to rescind it a month later and invite industry opinions.

Six months later, Congress got involved.

Language in the recently-passed omnibus says the Pentagon must now enlist both the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, along with industry and congressional defense subcommittees, to decide which ingredients should be on that list.

DOD also must provide scientific rationale for listing harmful ingredients in the first place, and set up a plan to give “transparent scientific justification” for all future decisions regarding banned ingredients, the spending bill said.

The bill called DLA’s efforts to assess the impact of reducing or eliminating certain ingredients “an important first step,” but also added that “concerns remain about the lack of transparency and scientific justification for restricting certain ingredients.”

Soy Industry’s Push

The Soyfoods Association of North America (SANA) led the lobbying push in Congress to ensure the industry isn’t banished from supplying the military. It had several allies in the push, such as the American Soybean Association, Institute of Shortening & Edible Oils, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and National Oilseed Processors Association.

“SANA supports the provision to provide transparent scientific justification when assessing healthy, nutritious food for service members,” Executive Director John Cox said in a statement to Bloomberg Government.

Cox said using soy protein is “an affordable and healthy way to deliver high-quality, plant-based protein,” adding that they are “generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and they offer numerous health benefits supported by hundreds of human clinical studies assessing nutritional quality.”

Prohibited Ingredients

DLA’s August 2017 notice required food manufacturers to disclose banned ingredients by Sept. 30, 2017, so that those products can be removed from meals served in dining facilities or on board a ship. The notice did not specify the reasons for each ingredient’s inclusion on the list.

Included on the prohibited ingredients list were what the agency called “meat protein extenders,” such as textured vegetable protein, isolated soybean protein, soy protein concentrate and vegetable protein product. Trans fats as added ingredients, monosodium glutamate (MSG), hemp seeds, and partially hydrogenated fats were also on the list.

After DLA withdrew the notice, it requested information from the industry regarding the ingredients it sought to prohibit, giving manufacturers the chance to submit their concerns. The industry comment period ended on Feb. 23, 2018, and the submitted information is under review, according DLA spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill.

The agency’s efforts to eliminate harmful ingredients began eight years ago. The Defense Department’s Joint Subsistence Policy Board in 2010 suggested changes to menu standards, including reducing or eliminating MSG, trans fats, and soy extenders in meats, McCaskill said.

The agency’s main goal “has been to provide the highest quality food to U.S. service members in accordance with guidelines established by the DoD Nutrition Committee,” she said. “We will work with all stakeholders to ensure the best possible data informs DoD’s food procurement policies going forward.”

Genetically Modified Crops

In a letter submitted Feb. 9 as part of the DLA’s request for comment, the soybean group said the listing of its crop by the DLA unfairly portrayed it as a questionable ingredient.

The DLA “suggested that soy protein ingredients used in meat products served in military dining facilities are inferior in some way, unsafe, or that they are being used as a substitute for meat products,” SANA’s Cox said in the letter.

“These ingredients are not used as a substitute or extender for meat, but rather they are added for nutritional benefit and improving the taste and function of food products,” the letter said.

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