Op-Ed

Photo: CC, Dan Levielle

Cheap meal replacement relies too much on modified soy

Soylent, a meal replacement product sweeping the U.S., now officially ships to Canada, but we know little about the impacts some of its ingredients can have on the human body.

Soylent is a complete meal replacement in a bottle. It consists of soy protein, algal oil, isomaltulose, and added vitamins and minerals. Soylent claims this mix is everything you need, a complete liquid meal on the go for just $2.

Soylent was created in 2013 as a crowdfunding project, and is marketed to a younger generation looking for food that’s affordable and adaptable.

The company glosses over certain facts that raise red flags, which calls immediate attention to the fact that this product is only theoretically sound.  This food replacement is heavily based on genetically modified (GMO) soy, an ingredient whose physical effects on humans have yet to be determined.

GMOs are widely believed to cause little harm to humans, however there hasn’t been an opportunity yet to do long-term studies of their effects.  There’s debate that GMO products can be harmful to the environment and the agricultural community. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization it’s possible for genetic material from the GMO crops to transfer to other plants or animals in the area. 

Because of the proximity of biological farmers and GMO farmers, GMO products can push out organic crops since they can grow faster.

According to the website Inspired Economist, little of the GMO food produced goes towards feeding people and is directed towards livestock, biofuels or products like corn syrup. While that’s a commendable goal the idea that GMO foods are the key to feeding a growing population is not true, because most of the world is still fed by small scale farming efforts.  Modified crops also disrupt insects in the area due to modifications and the large scale farming that accompanies it. 

Soylent acknowledges that there’s little health information about GMO soy, but they defend its use by referencing the book, Safety of genetically engineered foods: Approaches to assessing unintended health effects. This book states that plants have natural toxins and allergens, and the standard practice of crop breeders is to test the amount of allergens a GMO plant produces.

It’s important to note that in Canada and the U.S. this practise is self-monitored and based on a merit system. With no external regulations or accountability, there’s a lot of room for companies to implement systems which increase profit, while turning a blind eye to impacts on consumers.

Soylent is based on an inspirational concept to feed the world. Having a meal replacement that is affordable is ambitious in a world dealing with poverty, hunger and malnutrition. But potential risks to our health from GMO soy forces us to ask whether Soylent’s efficiency is really worth it.