But there may be a dark side to soy’s popularity and abundance. “Many of soy’s health benefits have been linked to isoflavones—plant compounds that mimic estrogen,” reports Lindsey Konkel in Environmental Health News. “But animal studies suggest that eating large amounts of those estrogenic compounds might reduce fertility in women, trigger premature puberty and disrupt development of fetuses and children.”
Also at issue is that upwards of 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is grown using genetically modified (GM) seeds sold by Monsanto. These have been engineered to withstand repeated dousing with the herbicide, glyphosate (also sold by Monsanto and marketed as RoundUp).
The U.S. government permits the sale and consumption of GM foods, but many consumers aren’t so sure it’s OK to eat them—given not only the genetic tinkering but also the exposure to so much glyphosate. Due to these concerns, the European Union has had a moratorium on GM crops of all kinds since 1998.
The fact that genetically modified soy may be present in as much as 70 percent of all food products found in U.S. supermarkets means that a vast majority of Americans may be putting a lot of GM soy into their systems every day. And not just directly via cereals, breads and pasta: Some 98 percent of the U.S. soybean crop is fed to livestock, so consumers of meat, eggs and dairy are indirectly ingesting the products of scientific tinkering with unknown implications for human health.
Since GM soy has only been around and abundant for less than a decade, no one yet knows for sure what the long term health effects, if any, will be on the populations of countries such as the U.S. that swear by it.