Is Your Veggie Burger Really Eco-Friendly?

Often touted as eco-friendly alternatives to hamburgers, some veggie burgers are certainly not "green."

By Leah Zerbe

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Health-conscious and environmentally aware consumers have been opting for veggie burgers in lieu of beef for years now, but a common industrial method of processing soybeans involves the use of hexane, a neurotoxin and registered air pollutant.

That's probably not what the typical veggie-burger buyer is bargaining for. "A lot of people who eat veggie burgers are doing so because they're conscious of their food choices and the impact on the environment," says Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-farming advocacy group. "But companies are either promoting themselves as natural or even 'made with organic' ingredients and then using hexane."

THE DETAILS: 

Vallaeys' report investigating the questionable soy processing procedures used to produce some soy veggie burgers was released last year, but a recent Mother Jones article brought the issue back into the public eye. Vallaeys explains that in soy veggie burgers not qualified for the USDA-certified organic seal, food manufacturers generally douse whole soybeans in a hexane solvent bath to break down the bean, separating the oil from the proteins.

WHAT IT MEANS: 
It is not clear whether any hexane remains in the food, but it is certainly released into the atmosphere. Vallaeys says food processors are among the worst emitters of the air contaminant. And aside from concerns about hexane, there are issues with how the soy is grown. In the United States, about 90 percent of the soy supply comes from genetically engineered crops, a relatively new food practice that has not been tested for its impact on human health. Some researchers have linked genetically engineered food to food allergies, digestive diseases, and even accelerated aging. Genetically engineered crops are manipulated to either produce their own pesticide inside the plant (which we wind up eating) or to withstand heavy dousing of pesticides that are linked to everything from learning problems in kids to diabetes and Parkinson's disease in adults.

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