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Illinois Prisoners Sue over Soy-Based Food

Prisoners at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois have sued the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) in federal court over the predominantly soy-based diet they are served.

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, which promotes the consumption of whole, traditional and largely unprocessed foods, Illinois prisoners are being served “up to 100 grams” of soy protein a day. The USDA recommends no more than 25 grams of soy protein consumption daily.

“Beginning in January 2003, inmates began receiving a diet largely based on processed soy protein with very little meat. In most meals, small amounts of meat or meat by-products are mixed with 60-70 percent soy protein; fake soy cheese has replaced real cheese; and soy flour or soy protein is now added to most prison baked goods,” the foundation stated.

“Never before have we had a large population like this being served such a high level of soy with almost no other choice,” said Price Foundation President Sally Fallon Morell. She compared the soy-heavy diet in Illinois prisons to “torture,” and said it was “the Tuskegee of the 21st century,” likening it to the infamous government syphilis experiments performed on African Americans from the 1930s to the 1970s.

The nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim the IDOC is endangering their health –especially prisoners who have allergies, sensitivities and existing gastrointestinal and thyroid problems – by serving them too much soy. They are seeking monetary damages and an injunction against soy-based food products. Although the suit was not filed as a class-action, the district court has received numerous letters from other prisoners attempting to join the case as plaintiffs.

The IDOC began using soy-rich foods as a way to save money. According to prison menus, prisoners are being fed as many as seven soy-enhanced “meat” entrees a week. Some of those entrees include soy-based chili mac, turkey patties, hot dogs, chicken patties, sloppy joes and polish sausages.

Critics contend that too much soy can adversely affect thyroid function, increase the risk of breast cancer, affect heart health, decrease sperm count and cause flatulence. Gas is the number one complaint among people who consume soy.

The IDOC obtains most of its soy-based foods from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) through contracts with Central Management Services. ADM would not disclose how much soy it provides to the state’s prison system, citing the pending lawsuit.

The Price Foundation has claimed that ADM “contributed heavily to the campaign of [former Illinois governor Rod] Blagojevich. The change from a [prison] diet based largely on beef to one based on soy happened in 2003, when Mr. Blagojevich began his first term as governor.” ADM was also a member of the Illinois Food Systems Policy Council, which was created by legislation signed by Blagojevich in June 2005.

Further, aside from regular soy, the Price Foundation alleges prisoners are being served genetically modified soy. Developed by Monsanto, genetically modified soy has up to 27 percent more trypsin inhibitors than regular soy according to Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, a book that criticizes genetically modified foods. Trypsin inhibitors reduce the availability of trypsin, an enzyme essential to nutrition.

The Price Foundation has called for a return to a time when “many prisoners grew their own food, raised their beef, their chickens [and] their vegetables.” The foundation is funding the prisoner’s lawsuit, which has been consolidated with two other related cases.

On November 20, 2009, the district court dismissed several of the defendants from the suit, including the State of Illinois, the IDOC and Central Management Services. The IDOC’s director, Michael Randle, was substituted for those defendants in his official capacity. The plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order, based on claims of retaliation, was denied on January 26, 2010; the court noted in its ruling that several of the co-plaintiffs apparently had not exhausted the grievance process. The suit is ongoing. See: Harris v. Brown, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:07-cv-03225-HAB-CHE.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Associated Press,

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