ST. LOUIS -- Soy is already an ingredient in many foods we eat every day, and what better time to recognize this little known fact than during April, which is soyfoods month. With the work of the soybean checkoff, soy's inclusion in food could increase even more.

Farmer-leaders of the soybean checkoff work on maintaining the food industry's demand for soy through their involvement in QUALISOY. This industry-wide effort identifies what traits the food industry needs from soy and then works to promote those traits to the benefit of both U.S. soybean farmers and consumers.

The soybean checkoff has been at the forefront of keeping soy in demand for use by the food industry through tackling issues such as trans-fat labeling. Even before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated labeling for foods containing trans fat, the United Soybean Board (USB) teamed up with others in the industry to find solutions to trans fat. One outcome of these collaborations is low-linolenic soybeans. Oil from low-linolenic soybeans does not need to be hydrogenated, which is the process that leads to trans fat. The introduction of low-linolenic soybeans into the marketplace saved nearly 900 million pounds of soy oil from being displaced by other oils, which would have resulted in loss of $700 million for soybean farmers.

These industry-wide efforts didn't stop with one answer to the food industry's needs. High-oleic soybeans are expected to be released for limited distribution this fall with commercial availability of oil expected in 2010. Oil from high-oleic soybeans has the added stability needed for heavier frying and baking applications. Other varieties in development that will add more value include the mid-oleic/low-saturate and Omega-3 varieties.

"New soybean varieties with specific end uses in mind benefit U.S. soybean farmers because they build demand and further utilization of soybeans," explains Jim Stillman, a soybean farmer from Emmetsburg, Iowa, checkoff farmer-leader and QUALISOY board member. "These developments are good for consumers, end users and soybean farmers."

In addition to being a useful ingredient, soy may also provide health benefits. Stillman adds that soy is already recognized as a heart-healthy food because adding 25 grams to a healthy diet may help lower blood cholesterol levels. Soy isoflavones have been found to increase artery and heart health according to research from the University of Hong Kong. Other research that is being conducted on the possible benefits of soy includes improving bone density and cancer prevention.

To take advantage of the health benefits of soy, two servings a day are encouraged. This could include snacking on a half-cup of edamame, pouring a cup of soymilk over your cereal or adding a cup of soy nuts to a salad.

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.