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Cash cow?

(article, Melanie Mesaros)

Soybeans get a lot of press, both good and bad. Beloved of vegetarians as a protein source, there's also a faction that claims too much soy is bad for you. And, of course, there's the issue of using soy for fuel instead of food. But there's no doubt that soybeans are a cash crop — even in Vermont, where the milk has long come from cows instead of beans.

As the Boston Globe recently reported, new soy producer Vermont Soy is busy these days. The company is making creamy soy milk in regular and chocolate, along with a line of tofu. The plant is even using equipment salvaged from an old Ben & Jerry’s factory. (Ben & Jerry's, of course, is the Vermont ice-cream maker that made sure consumers associated the state with the cow stuff.)

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The co-owner of Vermont Soy, Todd Pinkham, told the paper it was time to start catering to the state's locavores and vegetarians: 

bq. "A lot of people in Vermont were, like, 'I just don’t see it. We’re in a dairy state,'" Pinkham said. “But the truth is that people in Vermont are importing literally tons of these products.”

One of the biggest soy producers in the country is Vitasoy, another New England-based producer (in Ayer, Massachusetts) of all-natural soy milk. According to the company’s website, the U.S. soy market took off in 1999 after the FDA approved the health claim that linked soy protein to lower cholesterol and reducing heart disease. Today, soy is a billion-dollar industry nationwide. 

But the rising popularity of soy milk and other products isn’t putting dairy farmers out of business just yet. Soy product sales across the country increased 41 percent between 2001 and 2006, according to Prepared Foods,_ a food-industry trade magazine. But despite Vermont’s recent attempt to climb on the soy bandwagon, U.S. soy sales overall slowed significantly between 2004 and 2006. Maybe the joy of soy is over.

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