Soy Storm: Hexane in Processed Veggie Burgers?

by: Heather on 04/16/2010
Posted in: Food

A storm of controversy has erupted over a Mother Jones article referencing a Cornucopia study exposing the use of a potentially dangerous toxin used in manufacturing many soy foods, including veggie burgers.

From the report:

Hexane is strictly prohibited in organic food processing, but is used to make "natural" soy foods and even some that are "made with organic ingredients," such as Clif BarsĀ®. Hexane is a neurotoxic petrochemical solvent that is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The article was featured on the information clearinghouse Boing Boing, one of the most popular sites on the internet, where it was briefly discredited as being funded by an anti-vegetarian, pro-meat group. That turned out not to be true. The comments on both Boing Boing and Mother Jones (and there are hundreds) do however highlight how volatile and emotional the issue of vegetarianism remains for many people in both the for and against camps. Fortunately there are many cooler heads that point out that the adoption of a primarily local diet low in processed foods neatly sidesteps the whole issue of corporate-produced hexane patties.

Other interesting takeaways from the comments included the issue of whether hexane can actually remain in a food that was processed with it, since it is apparently a volatile substance and evaporates practically instantly, and also what OTHER foods are processed with hexane. For example, a little Google research showed me that most canola oil is extracted using hexane, which would seem to be more worrying when you think about it. I suspect a lot more people have canola oil on their shelf than have veggie burgers in their fridge.

Personally, I would choose to apply the precautionary principle and avoid the hexane if possible, but I suspect that I am still far better off with the occasional veggie burger than with a hormone-and-chemical-laden Big Mac. And of course the best solution, as always, is to make my own.

And now, since it's Friday, here's my all time favourite veggie video, the brilliant Cows with Guns by Dana Lyons. (Facebook readers click here).

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