National Soybean Processors Association and the Soy Protein Council

A Special Exhibit - The History of Soy Pioneers Around the World - Unpublished Manuscript

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

ęCopyright 2004 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

There are basically two industries in the US that manufacture modern soy protein products and both are based on the solvent extraction system. The "soybean crushing industry" (also widely but less accurately known as the "soybean processing industry") is involved with crushing soybeans and extracting the oil from the meal by use of hexane solvent. Most of the oil is used as a food, whereas most of the meal is used as the major protein ingredient in livestock and poultry feeds. In America this industry started to assume importance during the 1920s and 1930s.

The "soy protein industry" is involved with further processing the defatted flakes to obtain various edible products for human consumption. These include both basic products such as defatted soy flour and grits, soy protein concentrates, and soy protein isolates, and more elaborate textured soy protein products made from these basic products. The soy protein industry started to become important during the 1960s and 1970s.

National Soybean Processors Association (NSPA). The NSPA was founded in 1930 as a national trade association to serve the needs of America's new and rapidly expanding soybean crushing industry. A committee was set up under the leadership of Whitney H. Eastman of Archer Daniels Midland Co. Eastman called an organizational meeting for 21 May 1930 at Chicago's downtown City Club. Twelve processing firms were represented, including A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Allied Mills, Inc., Funk Bros. Seed Co., and Spencer Kellogg & Sons. The meeting gave birth to the National Soybean Oil Manufacturers Association, the forerunner of today's NSPA; the name was changed in 1936. Eastman was chosen president; offices were located in Chicago. The original objectives of the Association, in Eastman's words, were:

To promote in the industry a mutual confidence and a high standard of business ethics; to eliminate trade abuses; to promote sound economic business customs and practices; to foster wholesome competition; to provide ultimately for individual efficient business management operating independently and thus generally to promote the service of the industry in the public welfare (Weller 1970).

The NSPA formed a variety of committees to service the burgeoning industry: research and trade promotion, soybean grades and contracts, traffic and transportation, statistics, and industry liaison. These formed the nucleus of what, by 1970, had become NSPA's late ?? of 13 specialized committees.

In 1936 the NSPA hired a Chicago public relations bureau run by Edward Jerome Dies (pronounced DAIS) to correct certain adverse publicity. Dies, who would play a very important role in the development of soybeans and soyfoods in America, soon became president of the NSPA, and headed the industry during its early critical period of development and promotion. Born and reared on the West Coast, Dies studied finance and economics, then entered journalism. He was a staff correspondent of the Associated Press and a magazine writer before launching his public relations bureau. The author of 8 books, he helped found the Soybean Digest in 1941?? then in 1942 wrote his excellent Soybeans: Gold from the Soil, which described the history of soybeans and soybean crushing in America up to that time. The book became the Bible of the processing industry and did much to increase interest in the crop and in soyfoods. Taking a great personal interest in soybeans, Dies continued in office at NSPA until 1945, when he resigned to live in Washington. He retained a connection with the soy flour industry as Director of the Soya Food Research Council until at least 1950. In September 1950 he was elected an honorary life member of the American Soybean Association.

By the mid-1930s, when the soybean crushing industry was firmly established, the NSPA began to set up and fund a number of organizations more directly involved in using soybeans as foods. The Soy Flour Association, the Soya Food Research Council, and the Soybean Nutritional Research Council (each described below), helped to open new markets for soy flour and oil, educate the public about their virtues and uses, and give them a new and better image.

By the mid-1930s and the 1940s most of America's major soybean crushers had joined the NSPA. In 1947 there were 75 members operating more than 100 mills nationwide; offices were in the Board of Trade Building, Chicago. By 1970, with the concentration of control in fewer firms, there were 48 members operating at nearly 120 sites. In 1980 there were 33 member firms, which processed 95% of the soybeans crushed in the US.

In 1948 the NSPA established the National Soybean Crop Improvement Council (NSCIC) with J.W. Calland of Decatur, Indiana as first director. Funding came from NSPA members. Involved in many activities to improve the US soybean crop and its production, the Council by 1951 had distributed some 200,000 copies of a booklet entitled Soybean Farming, and a quarterly publication, Soybean News, was being sent to a mailing list of 18,000. A 27-minute film titled "Soybeans--The Feature Story," had also been produced and widely shown (Soybean Blue Book 1951). By 1970 the NSCIC annually provided nearly $100,000 in direct support of soybean production research. The organization, now headquartered in Urbana, Illinois, was directed by Robert Judd.

In 1968 NSPA moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. where they are today. It continued to set standards, develop trading rules, work with the federal government, sponsor, research, and promote food and feed products. Its ads to soybean growers stated "NSPA: Your free market partner. We're the biggest customer of America's soybean growers."

Soy Flour Association. In about 1935 the Soy Flour Association began to operate as an informal group, with Edward Kahl as its first president; it was organized formally in 1936, with offices in Chicago with the NSPA. That same year it established the Soya Food Research Council (see below). In addition to its functions as a typical trade association, it gave special attention to research, education, promotion, and dissemination of technical information about soy flour. During World War II the Association was the channel through which the industry assisted the government in bringing about public awareness of the high food value and low cost of soy flour products. With helpful advice from government technologists, standards were adopted. At government request substantial increases were made in the industry's productive capacity.

The Association was somewhat unique as a trade group in that its major emphasis was on scientific research through cooperative effort. Between 1944 and 1947 scientific research on soy flour was carried on five universities and two laboratories. In 1943 it opened the Soya Kitchen in Chicago to develop recipes for soy flour and grits. In 1947 E.J. Dies was chairman of the board. The Association was formally merged with the Soya Food Research Council in December 1949.

Soya Food Research Council. This council was organized in 1936 as part of the Soy Flour Association to do impartial, scientific research and development on soy flour and grits. Actually, the Council was the principal part of the Association since its organization. In 1945 the Council published a book entitled Soy Flour by C.K. Shuman. In December 1949 the Council assumed the former responsibilities of the Soy Flour Association. Edward J. Dies was elected director and Dr. J.W. Hayward of Minneapolis became chairman of research. Offices were in Washington, D.C. and activities were expanded. The Council was discontinued in about 1959 (Soybean Blue Book 1950).

Soybean Nutrition Research Council. This council was established in 1937 by the NSPA and shared the same office in Chicago. They did research and published articles on soybean and soyfoods nutrition. In 1938 they published "The Composition and Nutritive Properties of Soybeans and Soybean Oil Meal: A Literature Review." In 1939 they published "The Story of the Soybean" by Lamar Kishlar, research director for Ralston Purina. It is not known when the Council was disbanded.

Soy Protein Council. Called the Food Protein Council until 1983??, this council was established by NSPA in 1971, at a time when there was a rapidly growing interest in modern soy protein foods such as soy protein isolates and concentrates, and textured soy protein products. The Council, a trade association of major firms that manufacture or sell these products, was comprised of 14 firms in 1981. Its offices were in Washington, D.C. at the same address as the NSPA, and a number of officers worked with both groups. Dues were assessed on the basis of tons of soybeans processed; full members paid $5,000 to $10,000 per year, associate members paid $2,000.

The stated goals of the Council were:

To build awareness of the established nutritional properties of commercially available vegetable proteins and to participate in the formulation of US nutrition goals and policies; to assist government agencies, the scientific community, the food processing industry, and public interest groups in the better understanding of the role and utilization of vegetable proteins in the food system; and to work toward the establishment of harmonized world food regulations that maximize the economic and nutritional properties of vegetable proteins in the world food supply (ref??).

Actually, as of 1980, most of the funding was used for regulatory and governmental affairs work; second priority was sharing knowledge through research, and third was promotion. The Council issued many press releases on soy protein foods to major media editors and syndicated columnists as part of a low-cost campaign to build consumer awareness about soy proteins.

The Council has issued a number of the best basic publications available on modern soy protein foods. In October 1976 they published Soy Protein: Extending and Improving the People's Food, a 15-page booklet, one of the first to publicize the Gallup poll on changing attitudes toward soyfoods. Other attractive booklets include The Story of Soy Protein (ref??), Soy Protein: Improving our Food System (1982a), Vegetable Protein: Products and the Future (1982b), The Protein Power of Soybeans (CF??), and Shaping the Future of Food. These contain information on how the new products are made, how they are used in food systems, and their nutritional and economic advantages. It was gratifying to see the food industry explaining to consumers how the use of soy proteins in foods makes better use of the world's food resources, is less expensive, and healthier than typical meat-centered diets.

One major activity of the Soy Protein Council was putting on International Soybean Fairs. The first of these, the brainchild of Representative Paul Findley (R-Ill.) was held in 1972 in Washington, D.C.; similar fairs were held there in 1976 and 1979. In 1976 Findley said the fair's emphasis was on "encouraging the use of soybeans and soy products to help feed the protein deficient peoples of the world" (ref??). Diplomatic representatives from over 70 foreign countries plus 40 US congressmen attended and enjoyed a buffet featuring a wide variety of international dishes made with soy protein ingredients. During the next few years the Council did similar fairs in Moscow (1976), Warsaw (1976), and Amsterdam (1978). The 1979 fair was a particularly gala event, that drew extensive media attention; an article by M. Davis in the Washington Post titled "The Soy of Cooking" was syndicated nationwide. Sponsored by the Soy Protein Council, NSPA, and the American Soybean Association, the event was convened in the ornate Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill and drew an attendance of 787 people, including ambassadors from 35 countries, 80 congressmen, the US Secretary of Agriculture and the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China. Hors d'oeuvres at the fair's vast buffet, 10 prepared by chefs from the Chinese embassy and 13 by the Soy Protein Council, attempted to prove that soyfoods can be both tasty and attractive. In most recipes, modern soy protein products were used as meat extenders or analogs. Exceptions were tofu dips, garlic smothered tofu, and peanut butter cookies containing soy flour.

In 1980 the Council developed an educational resource kit for secondary schools titled "Soy Protein: You'll be Surprised." It contained 165 color slides with an audio pulse cassette, instruction booklets and a final quiz. Five thousand were made and distributed; they got excellent reviews from users.

Over a period of more than 50 years, the National Soybean Processors Association and its affiliated organizations have played a major role in building the soybean production, crushing, and protein processing industries.