Earth Talk: How healthy is soy? I heard that,
despite its healthy image, most soy is grown using chemicals
like other crops and is even being genetically modified.
—D. Frinka, Syracuse, NY
today spend upwards of $4 billion yearly on soy
food products. Although the versatile soybean provides
many health benefits, some 90 percent of the U.S.
crop is grown using genetically modified seeds,
engineered to withstand repeated dousing with Monsanto's
herbicide, glyphosate (popularly known as RoundUp).
© Timothy Valentine/Flickr
products made with soy have enjoyed great popularity in
the U.S. and elsewhere in recent years. Two decades ago,
Americans spent $300 million a year on soy food products;
today we spend over $4 billion. More and more adults are
substituting soy—a great source of protein—for
meat, while a quarter of all baby formula contains soy instead
of milk. Many school lunch programs nationwide have added
soy-based veggie burgers to their menus, as have countless
restaurants, including diners and fast food chains.
there are hundreds of other edible uses of the legume, which
now vies with corn for the title of America’s most
popular agricultural crop. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
promotes the inclusion of soy into other foods to cut down
on heart attack risk. Clinical studies have shown that soy
can also lower the risk for certain types of breast and
there may be a dark side to soy’s popularity and abundance.
“Many of soy’s health benefits have been linked
to isoflavones—plant compounds that mimic estrogen,”
reports Lindsey Konkel in Environmental Health News. “But
animal studies suggest that eating large amounts of those
estrogenic compounds might reduce fertility in women, trigger
premature puberty and disrupt development of fetuses and
children.” But before you dump out all your soy foods,
note that the operative phrase here is “large amounts”
which, in laboratory science, can mean amounts substantially
above what one would consume in real life.
at issue is that upwards of 90 percent of the U.S. soybean
crop is grown using genetically modified (GM) seeds sold
by Monsanto. These have been engineered to withstand repeated
dousing with the herbicide, glyphosate (also sold by Monsanto
and marketed as RoundUp). According to the nonprofit Non
GMO Project, this allows soybean farmers to repeatedly spray
their fields with RoundUp to kill all weeds (and other nearby
plant life) except for the soybean plants they are growing.
U.S. government permits the sale and consumption of GM foods,
but many consumers aren’t so sure it’s OK to
eat them—given not only the genetic tinkering but
also the exposure to so much glyphosate. Due to these concerns,
the European Union has had a moratorium on GM crops of all
kinds since 1998.
fact that genetically modified soy may be present in as
much as 70 percent of all food products found in U.S. supermarkets
means that a vast majority of Americans may be putting a
lot of GM soy into their systems every day. And not just
directly via cereals, breads and pasta: Some 98 percent
of the U.S. soybean crop is fed to livestock, so consumers
of meat, eggs and dairy are indirectly ingesting the products
of scientific tinkering with unknown implications for human
Since GM soy has only been around and abundant for less
than a decade, no one yet knows for sure what the long term
health effects, if any, will be on the populations of countries
such as the U.S. that swear by it. Natural foods stores
like WholeFoods are your best bet for finding non-GM foods
of all sorts.
Health News; Non
EarthTalk: Our community is talking of culling
local deer herd numbers. Frankly I think it’s the
people who are overpopulated, crowding out every last inch
of habitat. What happens when we finally do develop everything?
Pow! There goes the last doe?
—Anne Williamson, State College, PA
advocacy groups argue that outdated wildlife management
guidelines and land management policies contribute
to deer overpopulation problems. For one, since
hunters mainly prize antlered males, which will
mate with multiple females, a resulting ratio of
eight females for every male in the wild sets the
stage for a population explosion. Pictured: a female
white-tailed deer and her fawn.
© Jupiter Images/Thinkstock
to believe that deer, those innocuous enough vegetarian
browsers that occasionally tromp through our backyards,
are considered the scourge of many a suburban neighborhood
across the continent. Prior to white settlement of the “New
World,” tens of millions of deer blanketed the continent,
but their population density was kept in check by free-roaming
natural predators such as bears, wolves and mountain lions.
The white man’s
rifle took out the deer’s chief predators and did
a number on deer populations as well; venison was a staple
meat on the ever expanding frontier. Biologists estimate
that there were only a half million white-tailed deer left
in the U.S. in the early 1900s due to unregulated hunting.
At that point many states jumped in and began to regulate
hunting to try to conserve fast dwindling resources. The
new rules set limits on when hunters could kill deer and
banned hunting females altogether.
In the meantime,
many of the one-time farms in the eastern U.S. began reverting
back to forests, creating a habitat patchwork that in some
areas was ideal for deer. The ensuing rebound of white-tailed
deer populations—over 20 million roam the U.S. today—is
viewed as one of the nation’s greatest conservation
success stories, especially since it occurred long before
the dawn of the modern environmental movement.
But there is
a dark side to all this “success.” Too many
deer can cause problems for humans, other wildlife, and
even for the deer themselves, who must compete for dwindling
forage sources. “Complaints from residents are often
that the deer are eating things that they have planted,”
reports the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “Well
fertilized and watered landscapes and gardens can be much
more desirable to the deer than surrounding common ground
areas that are likely not watered or fertilized.”
beyond tearing up suburban backyards include damage to agricultural
crops, deer/car collisions, transmission of Lyme disease,
and the over browsing of habitat which deer and other wildlife
need. “Increasing deer densities through time can
lead residents to a feeling that they have to share too
much with the deer as the damage they do becomes less tolerated,”
reports MDC. It’s at this point that wildlife managers
begin considering culling local herds, usually by tweaking
local hunting regulations.
Many animal advocates
oppose such practices. In Defense of Animals (IDA) reports
that even permitted sport hunting, under current wildlife
management guidelines and outdated land management policies,
contributes to deer overpopulation problems. “Currently,
there are approximately eight does for every buck in the
wild,” the group explains. “Laws restrict the
number of does that hunters may kill.” Since bucks
will often mate with more than one doe, the ratio of does
to bucks “sets the stage for a population explosion.”
And open season on both sexes won’t solve the problem,
as too many does would die, stranding needy fawns and depleting
the reproductive pool—as happened in the early 20th
century when deer numbers fell precipitously low. IDA and
many other animal protection organizations believe that
sport hunting should be banned and that deer populations
should be allowed to regulate naturally.
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