“Which Veggie Burgers Were Made With a Neurotoxin?” asked Mother Jones this week, in an article detailing the findings of a Cornucopia Institute study on the use of hexane, a harsh pollutant, in non-organic soy production.

After Mother Jones published the article on Monday, CBS News, New York Daily News, and dozens of blogs picked up the story. “Soy Vey! Non-Organic Veggie Burgers Contain Neurotoxin,” “One Soy Burger, Hold the Hexane,” “Soy Burger With a Side of Toxin?” were among the headlines swirling around the web this week.

The Cornucopia report calls the use of hexane–which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists as a “hazardous air pollutant”–a widespread “dirty little secret” in the natural foods business. According to the report, the chemical is used in the manufacturing of many “natural” soy foods like veggie burgers, nutrition bars, and protein shakes–and to this reporter’s dismay, that list includes Clif Bars.

Hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining, is used in the food business as a solvent to separate the oil from the protein and fiber of grains, including soy beans.

“The effects on consumers of hexane residues in soy foods have not yet been thoroughly studied and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” according to the study, titled Behind the Bean.”Test results obtained by The Cornucopia Institute indicate that residues–ten times higher than what is considered normal by the FDA–do appear in common soy ingredients.”

There is no requirement for food companies to test for Hexane residues, so it is unclear how often the chemical shows up in food products at the grocery store.

According to Charlotte Vallaeys, a senior researcher for the group, the main concern with using the chemical in food processing is the environmental impact. Consumers may think they are buying a “green” vegetarian product, which is in fact contributing to significant hexane emissions. Consumers can avoid the issue by choosing certified organic soy, which bars the use of the chemical. 

“If you’re buying organic, you can be assured it’s not allowed,” Vallaeys told Food Safety News. “There are other ways to make a veggie burger. We just want to make sure people know there are alternatives.”

Vallaeys also cautioned that “made with organic ingredients” does not necessarily mean the soy is organic. She recommends looking for labeling that specifies “organic soy” or the USDA Organic symbol.

The report offers the following two lists to help consumers who wish to avoid products made with hexane:

Products with no hexane-extracted soy ingredients

Boca Burgers “Made with organic soy”
Helen’s Kitchen
Morningstar “Made with organic”
Superburgers by Turtle Island

Products with hexane-extracted soy ingredients

Amy’s Kitchen
Boca Burger, conventional
Franklin Farms
Garden Burger
It’s All Good
Morningstar Farms
President’s Choice
Soy Boy
Taste Above
Trader Joe’s
Yves Veggie Cuisine

The full report can be found here.

  • Mary

    Oh no! Not clif bars! Not Amy’s Kitchen! All is lost.

  • This is another example of a scientifically illiterate public over-reacting to a story it doesn’t understand.
    Hexane is used because it can do the job required of it during the soy processing, then go away.
    Go away?
    Yes, because unless you like your soy product very cold or frozen, the hexane evaporates. The products tested showed hexane levels within tolerance. What was ten times the amount, was their reading vs. the minimum detection level. It was NOT ten times the tolerance level.
    With all of these stories, you also have to ask your self this: Have there been reported illnesses arising from Veggie Burgers? No? Doesn’t that tell you something?
    I prefer burgers made from meat because of the protein, iron, flavor, and the thought I am eating something that had parents.
    My scientifically literate hypothesis: Eat your veggie burgers, you’ll be fine.

  • Greg

    Yes, this is one of those articles that shocks those people that are scientifically illiterate. Of course, that means most of the people reading this will be fooled into thinking Garden Burgers are dangerous to your health.
    However, I think it’s only fair that these “health food” products suffer from the bad “unscientific” publicity that other products have suffered from.
    People will believe any junk science you send their way as long as the website has pretty pictures and lots of words they cannot pronounce.

  • Adrienne

    Junk science, are you kidding me? Seriously, it’s just sad how ridiculously misinformed the general public is about the safety of our food. Do you honestly believe that a neurotoxin just “goes away”. No, it pollutes the environment and anyone who comes in contact with it. Our food is poisoned, and exposed to radiation!! Have you ever heard of irradiated food? Didn’t think so.
    And, oh sorry, you prefer meat because of it’s nutrients. Unless you’re eating 100% free range grass fed organic meat, preferably certified humane, it’s not what you think it is. The cows are given feed that is supplemented with calcium, iron, etc because they’re not getting those nutrients from grass that they’re supposed to be eating because instead they’re eating corn. I’m not making this up, and it’s not hearsay.
    Please inform yourself before you make accusations. It’s true that health food isn’t what it’s cracked up to be either, and sometimes there’s no lesser evil. Be an informed consumer, grow a garden, buy organic, buy local, and don’t eat gross crap that will make you fat or give you cancer. It’s so easy people, wake up!!

  • S.M.

    Soy is harmful anyway. It shouldn’t be in everything we eat to start with. I’m thankful that I’m so allergic to it in the first place.

  • Banks, Air Travel, Cable TV, Telecommunication and now Food Production. Can you name one instance of gov’t deregulation that benefited anyone besides a some execs that felt they weren’t yet wealthy enough?