I have never heard of Hexane before until someone shared The Cornucopia Institute website with me. What I found out is that Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil, and is found in soybean food products. The food industry uses Hexane to extract vegetable oil from plant seeds such as canola, soybeans, sunflowers and corn. That’s because it’s more efficient and less expensive than squeezing the oil out with presses. Supposedly, Hexane is removed from the oil before bottling, however, there is always some reside left in.
The website also enlightened me on the possibilities of where soybeans come from, i.e. American organic farmers or perhaps China, India, or South America, and just how reliable those “organic” soybeans are.
However, the one important item not mentioned by the Institute was manganese, which is probably more lethal than Hexane, since there is so much of it in soybeans. Also, they talk about “organic” soy. Does organic soy still contain the same high levels of manganese as non-organic? I haven’t found an answer to that yet.
What I found out, also, is that many protein bars such as Clif Bars contain 20 grams of soy protein! In addition, I found on the Cornucopia website a “Guide to hexane-extracted soy in nutrition bars”, for your review.
The big question that I have is what in the world is a solvent doing in our food? Another big question is, why is the public not being advised of this? Well, those are really redundant questions, of course, because we already know the answer: PROFIT.
The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report and accompanying Scorecard rates companies that market organic soy foods, such as soymilk, tofu and “veggie burgers,” based on ten criteria that are important to organic consumers’ showcasing companies that are truly committed to the spirit and letter of the organic law while exposing those that do not rate highly or were unwilling to share their sourcing and production practices in our survey.
The scorecard sheds light on questions such as:
- Do the soybeans come from American organic farmers, or are they imported from China, India or South America?
- Is the company devoted to supporting organic agriculture by sourcing only organic soybeans and marketing only organic products?
- Does the company use loopholes in the organic standards to source cheaper non-organic ingredients even when organic ones are available?
Part I of the comprehensive report explores the reasons for asking these questions, including why organic consumers should be wary of Chinese imports, given the lax oversight by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over organic certifiers working in China.
Part II of the report exposes the “dirty little secret” of the “natural” soy foods industry: the widespread use of hexane in processing. Hexane is strictly prohibited in organic food processing, but is used to make “natural” soy foods and even some that are “made with organic ingredients,” such as Clif Bars®. Hexane is a neurotoxic petrochemical solvent that is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Both the report and scorecard highlight the good news in the organic soyfood industry: in every market and product category, there are true heroes, both national and local manufacturers, supplying ethically-produced organic food that are worthy of consumer support.
Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil. In the food industry, Hexane is used to extract the vegetable oil from plant seeds such as canola, soybeans, sunflowers and corn because it is more efficient and less expensive than squeezing out the oil with presses. The Hexane is removed from the oil before it is bottled and sold, but there is always the potential for some Hexane residue to be left in the oil.
Hexane is toxic and exposure to large amounts of it can cause neurological damage. This mostly occurs when workers are exposed to Hexane at oil refineries and other places where Hexane may escape into the air. Current toxicology research focuses on industrial and airborne exposure to Hexane, so it’s not clear how much Hexane exposure from foods would be dangerous.
The EPA has estimated that consuming less than0.06 milligrams Hexane per kilogram of body weight is probably safe. For a 200-pound person (97.7 kilograms), that would be about 5.8 milligrams per day. A typical diet, even one with a lot of Hexane-extracted vegetable oil, would fall very far short of that. For example, the oil in the Swiss study with the most Hexane contained0.13 milligram Hexane per kilogram of oil, so a200-pound person would have to consume over40 gallons of that oil to even come close to5.8 milligrams Hexane.
The FDA hasn’t established a limit on Hexane residues in foods, however it has set limits for residue levels in hops and fish meal protein . Since it isn’t something foods are usually tested for, it’s difficult to know how just how much Hexane might be in any foods you buy. It’s also unknown how much foodborne hexane might cause a problem, although current research indicates it would take magnitudes more Hexane than what is possibly found in the diet.
The FDA does not require foods to be tested for Hexane levels — probably because the chances you’ll experience any meaningful exposure from food is highly unlikely. You’re much more likely to be exposed to Hexane through gasoline fumes, quick-drying glue and cleaning solvents than you are from any amount of foods you eat.
The CORNUCOPIS INSTITUTE
The Cornucopia Institute , an organization formed to support organic and small-farm agriculture, claimed that soy-based foods such as veggie-burgers and certain nutrition bars could potentially be contaminated with Hexane. They based their conclusions partially on a small study in Switzerland that looked at (among other things) Hexane levels in Swiss cooking oils.
None of the oils contained more than0.13 milligrams per kilogram of oil and88 percent contained no traces of Hexane at all. The institute also sent one sample of soy meal and grits to the FDA for testing.
The samples contained residues of Hexane (21 and14 parts per million), that are similar to limits set for hops extracts by the FDA. Since many vegetarian products and nutrition bars use soy protein as an ingredient, the institute fears that non-organic or partially organic brands of these foods might be contaminated with Hexane.
Studies conducted on oils extracted using Hexane demonstrates that all Hexane does not evaporate from the foods before they are consumed; instead some residue is always present as a byproduct in foods. It has been shown that up to0.2 percent of solvent by volume of oil may be present in the oil after it is extracted. A team of scientists in Switzerland demonstrated residues of Hexane in various oils tested for it.
While the oil is extracted using Hexane, the protein and fibre which are separated during the process have also come in contact with Hexane. An independent laboratory which is registered with the FDA and USDA was sent the samples of soy oil, soy meal and soy grits, all extracted using Hexane, by Cornucopia Institute, to test the presence of Hexane residues. It was found that while the oil contained less than10 ppm Hexane residue,21 ppm Hexane was present in soy meal and14 ppm Hexane was found in soy grits. These tests form important evidence that Hexane residues are always present as by products when used in food production.
First, most Hexane exposure comes through the air, however if you wish to eliminate Hexane residues from your diet, you can choose foods that are “100-percent organic” and oils that are expeller-pressed rather than solvent-extracted.
Expeller pressing is not as efficient as Hexane extraction so oils made this way are going to be more expensive. Keep in mind that labels that state the product is made with organic ingredients may still use ingredients that have been exposed to hexane.
Second, Hexane is found to be a highly explosive chemical and has led to death of several workers working in soybean processing plants. Hexane has also been identified by FDA as potential neurotoxin and carcinogen.
Though the dangerous effects of Hexane have been tested on workers, few studies are available which demonstrate the long term effects of consuming Hexane in foods.
However, Hexane is similar to other hydrocarbon solvents such as Benzene which have been shown to cause significant birth defects in human beings including attention deficit disorder, reduced IQ and various learning and memory deficiencies.