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Midwest Today, Summer 2000


Safety of Soy Is Debated

Food Additive Linked to Breast Cancer, Brain Damage, and Infant Abnormalities

Two senior American government scientists claim that chemicals in a soybean derivative could increase the risk of breast cancer in women, brain damage in men and abnormalities in infants.

The disclosure, which has been largely ignored by the press, sent shockwaves through the multi-billion dollar food industry. It came after the scientists -- Daniel Doerge and Daniel Sheehan -- decided to break ranks with colleagues in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They oppose its decision last year to approve a health claim that soya reduced the risk of heart disease. They wrote an internal protest letter warning of 28 studies revealing toxic effects of soya.

It's not just vegetarian foods such as tofu that use soya. It is a key ingredient in products from meat sausages and fish sticks to salad dressings and breakfast cereals.

The concerns of Doerge and fellow FDA researcher Sheehan focus on chemicals in soya known as isoflavones which have effects similar to the female hormone estrogen.

While these chemicals may help to prevent a range of conditions including high cholesterol, they also lead to health problems in animals including altering sexual development of fetuses and causing thyroid disorders. Although soy is thought to protect against breast cancer, some studies show that chemicals in soya may increase the chances of breast cancer which uses estrogen-type hormones for growth.

This will frighten mothers who increasingly use soya milk for babies. Doerge said: "They are exposing their children to chemicals which we know have adverse effects in animals. It's like doing a large uncontrolled and unmonitored experiment on infants."

The U.S. Soy Bean Association disputes the scientists. Yet British health officials have issued a warning over the dangers of eating soya.

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