Soy Lecithin and the GMO Secret


Take a look through your cupboards. Read the ingredient labels on your organic and natural food products (and your conventional ones). You’ll likely see soy lecithin on a large proportion of labels. You probably don’t know that the soy lecithin in your organic food is most likely from non-organic genetically modified soybeans.

PhotobucketDoesn’t the National Organic Rule prohibit the use of both non-organic ingredients and GMOs?

It does, but there is one important thing to know about this rule….foods can be labeled organic if they contain at least 95% organic ingredients. The other 5% can be non-organic. Furthermore, if a product is not available in organic form, it might be on a list of exceptions to the rule. Organic soy lecithin was not available when the National Organic Rule was written, so it made the list. Organic soy lecithin is available now, but manufacturers have no incentive to switch as long as it is still allowed under the organic rule (and it’s cheaper). The USDA is currently considering comments on a proposed change to the rule. A decision is expected in the spring.

PhotobucketWhy is it in my food?

In industrial applications soy lecithin acts like egg yolks and has similar emulsification properties. In fact, egg yolks also contain lecithin, but now that soy lecithin is available it is rarely used. Soy lecithin is what makes margarine and peanut butter spreadable, chocolate coatings smooth, batters pourable, ice cream creamy. It also facilitates mixing and prevents spattering during cooking, and extends the shelf life of foods.

PhotobucketHow is it made?

It’s a byproduct of soybean oil that is extracted during processing. We’ve already talked about the heavy processing soy protein goes through before it ends up in countless foods. Soy lecithin is extracted from soy oil in a similarly industrial manner. First, water is added to the oil and put in a centrifuge to separate the lecithin from the oil, then it is generally bleached with hydrogen peroxide. The product is then dried and sometimes it is further refined with acetone.

Add to this the fact that nearly 90% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified and heavily sprayed with pesticides, and you have to wonder if you should be eating it.

PhotobucketWhat can I do?

Eat unprocessed, whole foods for the most part, and seek out food manufacturers who are doing the right thing and switching over to organic soy lecithin without being forced by a rule change. This is unconfirmed, but there a few chocolate brands I’ve read about on the internets that use organic soy lecithin, but you still need to read the labels because they may not use it in all of their products. These include Lake Champlain, Dagoba, Endangered Species Sjaaks, Sweet Earth, and Green and Black’s.

Please comment if you know of other food companies/products using organic soy lecithin.


United Soybean Board


Weston A Price Foundation

Soy info Center

Image: jessicafm

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.