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Dead Birds, Darth Vader, and "Homo" Soy - An Investigation!

Thu 11 Dec 2003 In: Features

Soy milk may be guilty of tasting like wet cardboard, but can it make you gay? Be prepared to be led through strange and uncharted waters of weirdness... It all started innocently enough. A reader writing to "Investigate" magazine in support of gay bishops was privileged enough to receive a reply in the letters section from the magazine's editor, Ian Wishart. Wishart is not backward in putting his religious views forward, but one part of his reply to the reader stuck out like the evolutionary dogs bollocks: "We don't really know why homosexuality exists," he pondered, "although the mere fact that it does would offer some pretty strong proof that Darwin's Theory of Evolution is seriously flawed... there is also some fascinating scientific research that indicates the massive increase in the use of soy milk over the past four decades has contributed to increased levels of homosexuality among men..." Now there's a powder keg. Soy - miracle health food or gay-making cocktail? Well, if there's some "fascinating" scientific research about, surely Sanitarium, one of Australasia's leading health food companies, would know something about it. Problem is, they don't. There is no evidence to suggest that soy milk can make men gay, Sanitarium New Zealand's nutrition manager Kim Stirling told She also expressed bewilderment as to where Wishart had sourced this material, as inquiries she sent out to several leading independent researchers overseas in the field of soy failed to turn up any evidence or research on the subject - not even crap research done by a high school student in the back of a van - nothing. A search by for information on the internet, usually a teeming repository for bizarre claims, yielded few hits. Although there are various organisations concerned about the alleged side-effects of soy consumption, gayness doesn't appear to be amongst them. The few obscure sources returned in our search that did seemed to put connections between soy products and homosexuality in the area of urban legend. "I was shopping with my four year old son and picked up a carton of soy milk," says Mandy, a contributor to the online Compleat Mother Forum. "A lady shopping near me saw that and pulled me over to tell me that I was endangering my son's health by feeding him soy milk... and I would be hindering his 'male' growth by feeding him soy milk before puberty! I have never heard of such a thing. I don't think she meant to upset me, but the way she talked it was pretty scary." "I don't know if she meant I would be creating a homosexual person. I have no 'fear' of that. I will love my son no matter what his sexual orientation will be. I also don't see how feeding him soy will make him gay." It would seem that Mandy is not alone. Having reached a dead end, we decided to go back to the source. Judging by Wishart's confident tone in "Investigate", we imagined that he would be able to give us a reference for this groundbreaking research, so we decided to contact him, explaining that our search for information via the internet and Sanitarium had proved fruitless, and could he respond with the details of the research he referenced within 24 hours. To his credit, the busy talkback host and magazine publisher replied promptly. "Not quite sure what you looked for on the internet, and from your tone and demand for a 24-hour response sounds like you've got a deadline to meet while hoping to slap us around the chops," he said. "However, to burst your bubble, there are some well-known soy researchers in Northland - Dick James is the name that comes to mind - who've been studying the soy issue for some considerable time." Whangarei-based James is a retired lawyer, who breeds exotic birds with his wife. His investigations, referenced in background information presented to the Minister of Health in 1994, were concerned initially with finding the cause of numerous illnesses and deaths in birds that had occurred in their aviaries, believed to be related to soy consumption. The sexual orientation of the birds is unknown. James received a fair amount of media coverage at the time, with speculation that if soy products could kill his birds, what on earth could they do to human beings? "They [the well-known soy researchers] first passed on some overseas material on the soy-gender link about six years ago," Wishart continued, "and a senior ESR scientist in Auckland became so convinced himself of the dangers of soy that his employers, who had a contract to do research for a large multinational (not Sanitarium), fired him rather than allow him to address an international conference on the issue." Dick James is one of the people behind the website, which outlines their concerns over soy, while at the same time sharing Wishart's penchant for conspiracy theories. "The soy industry is one of the world's most wealthy and powerful and one that will steamroll anybody that dares suggest there may be problems with the darling soy," runs the website's intro. "When we first questioned the safety of soy a representative of [company name omitted] told us that they had teams of lawyers to crush dissenters, could buy scientists to give evidence, owned television channels and newspapers, could divert medical schools and could even influence governments." Following that, the website quotes the fictional Star Wars movie character Darth Vader when he says, "If only you knew the power of the dark side". Back to Wishart's reply to "A cursory five minute flick through Google turned up about 6,000 items of interest, a couple of which I've copied below. There are a number of chemicals regarded as 'gender benders' by the scientific community... if you search through some of the links you'll discover 'lesbian seagulls' and 'gay fish' following environmental pollution." This is fascinating, if not old, information: homosexuality has been well-documented throughout the animal kingdom. The only problem is, none of the links provided by Wishart indicated any links between increased levels of homosexuality among men and massive increases in the amount of soy milk consumption, and this was the claim Wishart made. There are concerns over the effects that isoflavones (a weak form of the female hormone estrogen present in soy milk) could have on male children, but the concerns are based around infertility and swollen breasts, not homosexuality. Some other concerns are based around the "possibility" of gender disorientation and "feminisation" of boys, but gender identity is only one of four components that make up sexual orientation as defined by psychologists. Wishart appears to have extrapolated his own conclusions from concerns raised in various media rather than relied on a definitive study, and that conclusion seems to be that "all gay men act like women and now we know why". Speaking of women, what do mothers think of all this? We decided to contact the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, an organisation that has been helping to ensure the health of kiwi babies for nearly a century. In contacting various offices to find a clinical expert who could answer our question, the response was universally similar. The idea of parents being concerned about soy milk making their children gay resulted in barely-suppressed chortles from all concerned. We eventually got in touch with Trish Jackson-Potter, Plunket's clinical adviser, who informed us that Plunket does not recommend soy milk, following guidelines from the Ministry of Health which do not recommend it as a first choice for babies. It would seem the instance of soy milk usage is pretty negligable anyhow. "We understand the uptake of soy milk for babies in New Zealand is about 3%," said Jackson-Potter. So much for the massive increase in soy milk usage. Jackson-Potter says the usage has declined since the Ministry of Health guidelines were released in 1999, but even before then the cost of soy formulas over cows milk-based formulas made the use of soy prohibitive for the average family. Plunket recommends breast-feeding as the first choice for mothers, followed by cows' milk. Soy is only recommended in rare cases where babies have an allergy to either of the first two choices. Why is the Ministry of Health being cautious about soy milk? Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) recently concluded in a safety review that "exposure of healthy infants to soy-based infant formula over some 30 years of use has not been associated with any demonstrated harm". The Ministry acknowledges this, but advises caution in the absence of any research on the long-term effects of the phytoestrogens contained within soy. Note that - "in the absence of any research". It is wise to advise caution in the usage of a product when one doesn't know the effects it may have. But neither the Ministry of Health, nor Plunket, is concerned that one of these effects may be homosexuality. Jackson-Potter says she knows of no link between homosexuality and soy milk, and after a round of phoning other Plunket experts couldn't turn up anyone else who'd heard of it either. The Ministry of Health says in its guidelines that further research is needed to determine whether "endocrine function" is adversely affected by the use of soy milk. This seems to be one of the key concerns, but there is no link between endocrine function, soy milk, and homosexuality either. Searching the website of The Endrocrine Society, the world's largest and most active professional organization of endocrinologists in the world, we turned up 11 articles on soy but none on homosexuality. So we're back at a dead end again, after tireless searching and/or conversations with soy product manufacturers, child-care experts, health professionals, exotic bird breeders in Northland, and talk radio hosts who have published essays on "the nature of Hell". Perhaps we need to return to Mandy, the concerned mother from the online Compleat Mother Forum - after all, the identity of the mysterious woman who accosted her in the supermarket is not known. Should the next step in our investigation be to contact Mandy with a picture of Ian Wishart to see if there is any connection between her experience and the claims made in Investigate magazine? We'll let Wishart have the last word: "So yeah, the issue of modern homosexuality perhaps having a causal link to environmental pollution or diet is, I suspect, wide open for ongoing research," he concluded in his email to us. "I presume I'll see an objective in-depth story on this on" Footnote: Ian Wishart's cover story in Investigate magazine last month was a decidedly un-objective "biography" of Prime Minister Helen Clark dedicated proudly to "outing" her as a closet lesbian. Amongst the evidence provided were quotes from anonymous "friends" of the Prime Minister and comments Miss Clark made in an essay in 1984, as well as accusations that Labour was carrying out "state-ordered brainwashing" via gay-themed programming on television. The article was described as "warped" in the NZ Herald and "dotty" by the National Business Review. Chris Banks - 11th December 2003    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Thursday, 11th December 2003 - 12:00pm

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