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Vegetarian un-Delight: Soy's Link to Breast Cancer

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Rhonda Shiffman

There is increasing evidence that lifelong exposure to estrogen increases breast cancer risk. Soy is a phytoestrogen in that it has properties that are estrogen like but are derived from plants. What’s going on here? Is estrogen increasing in the things we eat, the water we drink or the air we breathe?

You bet your bottom dollar they are. Have you noticed how tofu, soy burgers, soymilk, and soy-based energy bars, protein powder and desserts have flooded the market over the last decade? The Asian diet has a long history of soy consumption. This, linked with the long lifespan of Asians as a group, has led to a belief among some that eating soy products leads to longevity and good health. When in fact, fish and pork are where the majority of calories come from in the Japanese and Chinese diets, respectively. Dr. Lam writes in his Soy and Estrogen Dominance article that soy consumed in Asia averages only 2 tablespoons a day. Who is pushing the consumption of soy? Soy producers.

If you visit the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) online, you will learn that “Each day, ADM transforms crops such as corn, oilseeds, wheat and cocoa into food, feed, and agriculturally derived fuels and chemicals." ADM omits from its online home page that it operates one of the world’s largest soy isoflavones facilities in the world, producing the greatest variety of isoflavone supplement products. A quick check of ADM’s Annual Report filed with the Security Exchange Commission indicates it netted a profit of $2 billion in 2010 up 5 percent from the previous year.

Monsanto has brought us herbicides and pesticides, and the genetically modified crop that would kill the pest that samples the crop. During the 1990’s Monsanto won a patent not only for a new strain of soybean, but for the procedure itself of genetic modification of soy, modified so that it is impervious to its patented Roundup Herbicide. Monsanto isn’t doing too badly either: Its 2010 Annual Report indicates a net income of roughly $1.1 billion.

It’s not news to the environmental community that International food cartels, such as ADM and Monsanto, have been systematically destroying countries’ food-producing capabilities over the decades, replacing them with a large-scale production of genetically modified soy and corn for export to a globalized market. Deforestation of regions cleared for soy cultivation has had disastrous ecological and economic consequences, including flooding and desertification.

American agriculture over the past few decades has experienced a continuing decline of small family farms. The United States agriculture section in Encyclopedia of the Nations states that since 1979, 300,000 small farms have disappeared in the United States and that since 1946, the number of people employed in agriculture has been cut in half. Evolutionary theory tells us that relying on crops with low genetic variation can lead to a disaster. But for ADM and Monsanto, hubris and greed overwrite common sense. So while ADM and Monsanto continue to practice colossal monoculture and develop genetically modified crops and pesticides to make monoculture temporarily successful, small local farmers using sustainable methods are growing in numbers.

When I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, a pre-cancer that is associated with estrogen dominance, I made a decision to eat only free range, hormone-free meat and dairy, and organic fruits and vegetables. While I’ll never know if soy caused my cells to change, I sure wish I could take back the years of daily soy lattes I consumed.

Rhonda Shiffman is a graduate student at Presidio Graduate School located in San Francisco, California. She is employed in the Environmental Operations department of the local utility where she manages an environmental program. She is happily cancer-free.

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