At the grocery store yesterday grabbing a few things, including some soy milk, when we got into a conversation with a store employee that was stocking the aisle. Talk led to the Silk brand and a rumor that she had heard that Silk uses soy beans from China. I had not heard about this, but I don't follow the soy bean trade that closely. The container for Silk says that it is sourced from North American soy beans. Knowing my geography, I am pretty certain that China is still not in North America. So, are we safe in saying that there are no Chinese soy beans in Silk brand soy milk? After some digging I've figured out a few things.
Firstly, Silk did once use Chinese soy beans. According to their own press releases, "Silk is not sourcing beans from China. In the past, we have sourced a small portion of beans from China. Silk stopped contracting for soybeans from China at the end of 2006." I have no idea what they considered a "small portion" to be, but they claim to have stopped. However, this is only their word, and they have not publicly released any data to show the sources of their soy beans. As such, it is a little difficult for anyone outside the company to track point of origin on their beans.
There are also complaints about Silk dropping its Organic label in 2009 in favor of a slightly more abstract label of Natural for it's soy milk products. There are no federal guidelines defining the usage of the term Natural on food products, so the soy used in anything labeled in Natural isn't necessarily organic and the beans can come from any variety of growing practices. Silk made no effort to change packaging, beyond swapping out the Organic label, nor did they change UPC codes to indicate that what they were now selling was, indeed, a very different product than what people had been used to purchasing. Indeed, by not swapping UPC bar codes stores had no need to provide new shelf space or new pricing tags for the product. At time of transition the Natural labeled soy would have simply been shelved behind any Organic labeled soy that might have still been on sale.
So what to do? It sounds like a lot of people are boycotting Silk on principle, and it might be time to make the switch over to another brand as well. Organic Valley, Eden and Wildwood all make organic soy milk that tend to be easy enough to find in most grocery stores. Or, I guess, you could always make your own.