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Soy enlisted in war on malnutrition

In recognition of World Food Day, the United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean check-off are showcasing the efforts of soybean producers to reduce world hunger and malnutrition with soy protein.

According to Sharon Covert, Illinois Soybean Check-off Board director, protein deficiency is a major cause of malnutrition, and soybeans, high in protein content, is a solution to the problem in many developing countries.

Through the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), the soybean check-off is finding new uses for soy in the global battle against malnutrition. Each year, the United Nations' World Food Day works to bring attention to the fact that while there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, more than 800 million people go to bed hungry.

Jim Hershey, director of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, says the check-off funded group has launched three projects in more than a half dozen countries.

“Over 100,000 pounds of donated soy product are on the ground in African countries, in addition to another $1.5 million in textured soy protein and soy flour,” he says. “Even a program this size, though, is a drop in the bucket in terms of world food needs. It's also a small percentage of the U.S. foreign food assistance program, which is less than 5 percent of all assistance in the overall U.S. budget, and less than 1 percent of our gross national product.”

The group's current projects include promoting soy's potential for improving the protein content in the wheat-based foods that are the staple of diets throughout Central Asia and many other countries, and convincing short- and long-term commercial markets to incorporate soy protein into diets in the developing world.

Steve Sonka, director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory (NSRL) in Illinois, says, “We are working closely with the soybean check-off boards to generate the tools required to meet the growing need for protein around the world.

“When we look to the future, we see significant increases in people's desire to purchase animal protein and significant increases in the consumption of fish. We see increases over the next two decades that exceed 80 percent over current levels,” he says. “This increase in demand is not evenly distributed over the world, with most increases occurring in Asia and South Asia. In some cases we're anticipating seven-fold increases in consumers' desire to consume poultry, swine and fish in the commercial market place. That's important for soy growers because those three products have the potential to consume large amounts of soy meal.”

Income growth by itself will not move malnutrition levels down to the levels society wants to achieve. “As a flexible, desirable protein, soy is well-designed to enhance those needs, Sonka says. “The soybean industry has done an excellent job of fueling demand in some geographical areas, but the growth in consumption will be in the areas of China, South Asia and India. We need new strategies for those markets. Clearly we need something more than just assuming income growth will take care of the problem,” he says.

“Soybean protein fits well into food manufacturing, which can generate economic activity, making it more sustainable than just direct food aid,” adds Sonka.

Covert says, “One of the major challenges in introducing soy is that it be culturally acceptable. Soy-enhanced products must look and taste like local foods, and WISHH is successfully incorporating soy into local diets across the world.”


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