Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor


Soy Suffers A Setback

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter Publishing Co., Inc.
dgroves@cheesereporter.com 608-316-3791

November 17, 2017


The US Food and Drug Administration late last month proposed to revoke a health claim for soy protein and the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The International Dairy Foods Association noted that this is the first time that FDA has proposed to revoke a health claim that was originally put into place under the agency’s “significant scientific agreement” criteria.

In its announcement, FDA said the “totality of the evidence” does not provide a basis on which experts would find significant scientific agreement (SSA) “because of the high degree of inconsistency of findings across similar and different studies with high or moderate methodological quality. This degree of inconsistency would not be seen when SSA exists because, when there is SSA, we would find most of the studies to consistently find a beneficial relationship between a substance and a disease risk.”

FDA’s proposed rule (covered in a story on page 5 of our Nov. 3rd issue) prompted several thoughts and questions about soy products, dairy products, and the whole issue of health claims.

Among other things, we couldn’t help but feel a bit, well, a bit giddy that the soy foods industry finally received a little bad news on the health and nutrition front. Let’s face it, while dairy products have been getting bashed over the past four-plus decades for alleged offenses ranging from saturated fat to dietary cholesterol, there’s been little if any negativity when it comes to soy foods, which seem to benefit from the “glow” of all things plant-based.

FDA deserves some credit on this proposed rule; the agency seems to have truly done a lot of digging as it searched for evidence to support, or not support, the link between soy protein and coronary heart disease. The agency’s proposed rule ran 23 pages in the Federal Register, the last eight of which are references — some 230 of them, to be exact.

Interestingly, some of those references cited by FDA mention dairy products. And as it turns out, the impact of soy protein on heart health isn’t all that different than the impact of dairy protein.

A number of studies cited in the proposed rule concluded that there were “no significant differences” in blood total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol between soy protein and casein treatment groups, or between soy protein groups and milk protein groups.

This raises an interesting question: Should dairy products be allowed to bear a health claim regarding dairy protein and heart health? Unfortunately, the answer to that question appears to be a resounding “no,” for at least a couple of reasons.

First of all, the link between dairy proteins and heart disease doesn’t appear to be any firmer than the soy protein-CHD link. While FDA cited numerous studies that found no significant difference between soy protein and milk protein, the agency also cited some studies that concluded, for example, that blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol was “significantly lower” after consuming soy protein isolate compared to the milk protein control.

Second, as everyone in the dairy industry knows, milk protein is pretty complex. Looking over some of the studies cited by FDA, we see mentions of total milk protein, casein and caseinate, semi- skimmed cow’s milk, and of course whey (far more mentions of casein than whey, for what it’s worth). It would be difficult if not impossible to come up with a CHD-related claim based on that research.

As noted earlier, IDFA pointed out that this is the first time that FDA has proposed to revoke a health claim that was originally put into place under its “significant scientific agreement” criteria. IDFA also noted that FDA authorizes the use of 12 SSA health claims. One example of a health claim available for use on eligible dairy products is a label statement that connects the intake of calcium and vitamin D to lower risk of osteoporosis.

So is there any danger that dairy could lose this health claim? Cary Frye, IDFA senior vice president of regulatory affairs, noted that, while the proposed revocation of the soy protein-CHD health claim “could indicate that FDA is reconsidering the scientific evidence supporting various health claims, FDA has asked for updated data only on the health claim regarding soy protein and heart disease.” The SSA claims are “based on a longstanding consensus in the scientific community, so we don’t expect to see any other immediate changes from the agency.”

Dairy protein and CHD aside, should the dairy industry attempt to gain approval for some other health claim? Maybe at some point in the future, but making this attempt now might be a bit premature.

Certainly there’s been a lot of good news in recent years about nutrition and dairy products, good news that includes everything from dairy proteins and milkfat to fermented foods such as cheese and yogurt. And there’s also a growing body of research pointing to positives for such whey protein components as lactoferrin and beta-lactoglobulin.

But at this point there doesn’t appear to be anything approaching “significant scientific agreement” on dairy and health. So the industry is probably better off continuing to fund nutrition research and making sure the positive findings are trumpeted loud and clear.

Maybe what FDA should do, to “level the playing field,” is to let the dairy industry have the soy protein-CHD claim for a couple of decades. Since the soy protein industry benefitted for close to two decades from a health claim that’s no longer supported by the totality of the scientific evidence, maybe the claim should go to a protein that’s more than soy’s equal.

Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.



Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 35 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

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