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Proposed FDA Rule Change Could Affect Arkansas Soy Products

Soybeans are Arkansasís largest agricultural export, but a labeling change proposed by the FDA could affect sales. (photokostic/GettyImages)
Soybeans are Arkansasís largest agricultural export, but a labeling change proposed by the FDA could affect sales. (photokostic/GettyImages)
November 27, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Soybeans and soybean products are Arkansas's largest agricultural export, but a planned rule change by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could put a dent in future crops.

The FDA is proposing a new policy that would mean companies could no longer make claims that soy protein reduces the risk of heart disease or other health conditions. Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the claim, often made on items such as soy milk or meat replacements, is no longer supported by research.

"The science has changed over the last 10 years or so,” Liebman said. "Initially, it looked like soy protein had a special ability to lower the bad cholesterol in your blood, and later studies haven't borne that out. So, FDA is really just modernizing this regulation."

The FDA said soy products could use a qualified claim, stating that "supportive but not conclusive evidence" suggests that soy may reduce health risks. Industry groups, such as the American Soybean Association, strongly oppose the change, and say the new labeling could be confusing.

Arkansas farmers produced 150 million bushels of soybeans last year, worth $1.5 billion.

Liebman said the rule change doesn't mean that soy has no health benefits, but rather that its advantages for consumers are more indirect.

"Replacing red meat with soy foods would still help lower your cholesterol,” she said. “But that's because you are replacing the saturated fat in the meat with unsaturated fat in soy - not because the soy protein lowers cholesterol any more than other proteins."

She said she doesn't believe the rule change will have a significant effect on sales of soy-based products.

"I'm not sure that's the main reason people have moved toward non-dairy milks in the first place,” Liebman said. "I think people have other reasons for choosing soy milk, so I don't imagine it'll have a huge impact."

The proposed rule change, supported by the American Heart Association and other health advocates, is open for public comment through January 16. Soy product manufacturers can continue to use current labels until the FDA finalizes its decision.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR