Fresh Perspectives

July 22, 2008
Steven Hanson

To gain new insights into the soy market, an interview was conducted with Stephen Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association (ASA).

Soy foods and supplements represent an important contribution to the overall soy market. This interview provides information about ASA, an overall "big picture" look at the soy market, and an overview of how ASA supports the market's growth relative to foods and supplements.

What is ASA?

For more than 88 years, ASA has met the demands of a growing world. ASA represents U.S. soybean farmers through policy advocacy and international market development. Our mission is to increase market opportunities and value for U.S. soybean farmers, which we achieve through domestic and international policy advocacy, education, and training programs. Our efforts are guided by our members' commitment to produce food, feed, and energy in an environmentally sustainable manner.

What is the vision of the ASA?

The vision of ASA is to lead an expanding soybean value-chain, with farmers capturing a growing percentage. ASA's development of influential and effective grower leaders is recognized throughout the agriculture industry.

What is the role of the ASA in promoting the health benefits of soy to consumers?

In promoting the health benefits of soy to consumers, ASA was instrumental in obtaining approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the "Soy Health Claim." ASA and Protein Technologies International Inc. each filed petitions in 1998, which presented data linking daily consumption of 25 g of soy protein to reduction in serum cholesterol, a major cause of high blood pressure and heart disease. Products that contain at least 6.25 g of soy protein per serving can make the claim based on four servings per day.

During FDA's public comment period, ASA worked with members of Congress and with other agriculture and food organizations to coordinate support for the proposed rule. ASA provided interested parties with research data and other educational materials that substantiated ASA's position in the health claim.

More recently, ASA submitted comments to FDA on February 19, 2008, in response to FDA's re-evaluation of the soy protein health claim. FDA is currently re-evaluating the soy claim along with three other health claims.

What programs does ASA have for understanding the health benefits of soy?

In 2000, ASA and a group of soybean checkoff boards and other state soybean grower organizations created the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) program, which is operated by ASA to promote exports of U.S. soy protein for use in human diets in developing countries.

As a market development program for U.S. soy targeting human nutrition in developing countries, WISHH stimulates demand for soy in public and private sectors around the world. WISHH has worked with numerous private voluntary organizations and commercial companies in 23 different developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Central America, training people how to use soy for economic and nutritional advantages. Many of these groups are using U.S. high-protein soy to improve diets and health as well as encourage growth of food industries in developing countries.

What percentage of soy is utilized in foods and supplements? Does the association view this as an area for growth?

When processed, a 60-lb bushel of soybeans yields approximately 48 lb of protein rich soybean meal and 11 lb of crude soybean oil.

In the United States and other countries, soybean meal is primarily used for poultry and livestock feed, so most people eat their soy in the form of chicken, eggs and pork, and also in milk, beef, and farm-raised fish. U.S. livestock consumed 35.3 million tons of soybean meal in 2007.

Asian diets traditionally contain a high level of soy protein in human foods such as tofu and soymilk, and since the "Soy Health Claim" was approved by FDA in 1999, the market for soy foods in the U.S. has grown considerably.

Domestic utilization of U.S. soybean oil in 2007, was 16.1 billion lb for edible consumption (cooking oil, salad oil, margarine, etc.) and 3.6 billion lb for industrial use (adhesives, lubricants, solvents, etc., and biodiesel). Soybean oil accounts for about 70% of all the edible fats and oils consumed in the United States.

According to the Soyfoods Association of North America (SANA), from 1992 to 2006, soy foods sales have increased from $300 million to $3.9 billion over 14 years. This increase can be attributed to new soy food categories being introduced, soy foods being repositioned in the marketplace, and new customers selecting soy for health and philosophical reasons.

Between 2005 and 2006 there was a 1.4% increase in overall soy foods sales. This represents a general leveling off of sales, but some categories, like soymilk, have experienced greater growth and others, such as energy bars, have not. Since many consumers have now incorporated soy into their diets and supermarkets have brought soy foods to their shelves, new growth spurts for soy will come with more consumers making a commitment to following healthier diets and more consensus evidence linking soy with disease prevention.

Sales of some categories of soy foods have slowed down in growth in the retail market, but other categories have experienced more significant growth. The growing opportunities in food service should also boost sales of meat alternatives, soymilk (soy milk), tofu, and other soy foods. New soy food categories (i.e., soy-based drinks, drinkable cultured soy, soy dairy-free frozen desserts, soy entrees, pastas, and snack foods) are emerging with strong and steady growth. The wide variety of soy foods will help consumers meet the 2005 federal Dietary Guidelines that call for eating foods like soy that are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, key vitamins, and minerals, and are lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories.

How are the applications of soy viewed by the association relative to usage of soy for functional foods and supplements?

Soybean oil's share of the U.S. fats and oil market fell 10 percentage points from 80% market share to about 70% when trans fat labeling requirements were implemented by FDA beginning in 2006. Trans fat is created when vegetable oil is hydrogenated. In response, U.S. farmers are now planting several varieties of low-linolenic soybean oil that requires little or no hydrogenation.

This low linolenic soybean oil is being marketed as the Treus brand, offered through a joint effort between Bunge and DuPont, and the Vistive brand, offered by Monsanto. ASA works closely with its farmer-members to coordinate with seed and processing companies to ensure a reliable supply and delivery of soybeans with special functional properties needed by food manufacturers.

And to help offset the cost of introducing soybean varieties, ASA advanced as part of the new Farm Bill a new Quality Incentive Program that promotes production of soybeans with high-stability oil that can replace the need for partially hydrogenated oils in food products. The program will cover up to one-third of the total premium paid to farmers by oilseed marketers for up to five years of commercialization.

Organic certification of foods and ingredients is becoming very popular for food and supplement products purchased for health benefits. What is the sense of this trend from your perspective?

ASA supports organic certification programs for growers who want to supply this specialty market. However, the costs associated with producing organic and non-biotech soybean varieties continue to increase as their share of total U.S. production continues to decline.

In 2007, 91% of all U.S. soybeans were biotech-enhanced varieties. These herbicide-tolerant soybeans provide farmers with an unprecedented weed management tool, which has led to increased conservation tillage practices that reduce production costs, lower fuel consumption, reduce run-off, and save irreplaceable top soil.

U.S. farmers are interested in growing soybeans that are profitable to their overall farm business. Growers will continue to supply organic soybeans as long as there is sufficient profit margin to compensate them for the increased cost and risk associated with their production.

How does ASA promote research related to the health benefits of soy?

ASA advocates federal funding for research on soy and works for research appropriations. One of the ways ASA promotes soy research funding is with an annual Congressional Soyfoods Lunch on Capitol Hill. This event is a unique opportunity to bring soyfoods to the U.S. Capitol, where members of Congress, their staff, and other government officials can sample a wide selection of fabulous soyfoods and beverages. ASA partners with a variety of soy food companies to showcase their product offerings at this event. As the demand for soyfoods increases, so does the diversity of offerings available in the marketplace, and ASA works to ensure that the people working in the nation's capitol know how good soy can taste.

Most of the companies reading this article are likely to be utilizing soy in their products but probably have no knowledge about ASA. What would you like companies utilizing soy for functional foods and supplements to know about the ASA?

ASA is a membership organization supported by grower dues and agribusiness sponsorships. We regularly work with companies on education, policy, promotion, and training programs that benefit the industry. We look for win-win programs that are good for our farmer members and industry.

How is the American Soybean Association responsible for growing the soy market?

Very clearly, the market for soy would not be as large as it is today without ASA's efforts. Whether through our work to obtain health claims for soy, or our work to obtain soy research funding to develop new uses and unlock the potential for soy, farmers as well as food companies have benefited from our achievements. Our goal is to continue working with industry and our farmer members for the next 88 years to continue to expand soy use and market share.