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1986: Soyfoods Standards Development Timeline

Here’s the story of the soyfoods industry standards for presentation to the FDA which I helped write in 1984-1986, from History Of Tofu and Tofu Products.

Back then 37 years ago we had to type our comments on a typewriter, sign it with a pen, fold it in thirds, put in an envelope, address the envelope, stamp the envelope, and mail it to the person assembling everybody’s comments (because mailing it to 20 people was a MASSIVE hassle). After 1982 I had a dot-matrix printer, so the writing could be done on a “word processor” in a program like WordStar, but it looked like crap being dot-matrix and all. If it was a short comment we could fax it to everybody on the list one at a time standing by the machine the whole time to feed it, 3 minutes or more per transmission.  

So after 8 drafts we finally got it done and then… the largest company re-wrote them to disadvantage a competitor and give them a leg-up, so the whole effort fell apart after years of work by dozens of people. To this day there is no standard of identity or definition for what is “tofu” or “soymilk.” Ironically, soymilk may be the first liter-size TetraBrik® product to succeed in America.

Despite that, “tofu=meat”: “The Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs final rule was published on January 26, 2012. The final rule gives schools the option to offer commercially prepared tofu as a meat alternate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).”  

ASTM Committee D37 is currently attempting writing Standards of Identity for Cannabis including Hemp and Hempseed (D37.07), and I recently joined the effort. I might be the only one with a long food industry history on it.

The following is from “History Of Tofu and Tofu Products (965 CE to 2013): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook,” by William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi of the Soyfoods Center, with a few notes from me [RR]: 


1986. Chronology and analysis of the U.S. tofu standards: One viewpoint. Soyfoods Center, P.O. Box 234, Lafayette, CA 94549. 15 p. April.

1979 Feb. 9– Judith Rubenstein, acting as Institutional Consultant for the New England Soy Dairy, initiates a correspondence with Carol Tucker Foreman, Director of Child Nutrition Programs, USDA, on the subjects of tofu standards and acceptance of tofu in USDA Child Nutrition Programs, including the School Lunch Program. Four letters are exchanged between February and August 1979. Discusses tofu and argues that tofu should be included in these child nutrition programs, then asks for advice about the proper procedure for making an application for such inclusion. This is the earliest document concerning a standard of identity or standards for tofu.

1979 June 29–FDA headquarters personnel draft an internal memorandum in which the agency’s views on tofu and its attributes are set forth. Publication of a “pull date” on tofu packages is encouraged.

1979 July 23–Judith Rubenstein (see above) writes the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that the FDA establish a standard of identity for tofu. She notes that Audrey Maretzski, Director of Nutrition and Technical Services for USDA, suggested that FDA give top priority to this issue. Issues of imitation tofu products and bacterial contamination are raised. “It is evident that the first step in crediting tofu as a Type A food [in the federal school lunch program] is for the Food and Drug Administration to establish a standard of identity for tofu. Dr. Audrey Maretzki, Director of Nutrition and Technical Services Division for the USDA, informed us in May that her office has requested the FDA give top priority in its standards division to establishing a standard of identity for tofu. We would like to lend our support to the USDA request that the FDA establish a standard of identity for tofu… We would be very grateful to know if the FDA is actually working on standards for tofu or when that process is likely to begin.”

1979 July 25–In Tofu and Soymilk Production, Shurtleff and Aoyagi, directors of The Soyfoods Center, attempt to define the basic types of tofu and their composition.

1981 Jan. 20–Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as president of the United States. The regulatory climate in Washington, DC, begins to shift toward less federal regulation, and more encouragement for industries to regulate themselves.

1981 April–The USDA decides to establish tofu standards and to publish them in Federal Register, but this plan is dropped in September, amid controversy over changes in the school lunch program. [“katsup=vegetable” RR]

1982 July 19–In Soyfoods Industry and Market: Directory and Databook, Shurtleff and Aoyagi include a 5-page section titled “Soyfoods Terminology and Standards,” which contains detailed information on tofu.

1983 March 14–The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, in Bulletin No. 810, titled “Quality of Tofu and Other Soy Products,” reports high bacterial and coliform counts. A virtual expose revealing the tofu industry’s poor quality control and concomitant vulnerability, the report gets widespread media coverage and hurts sales of New England and New York tofu companies.

1983 July 25–Tom Timmins, president of Tomsun Foods Inc., having seen the need for tofu standards in the aftermath of the Connecticut report and as a prerequisite for acceptance of tofu in school lunch programs, speaks to the Soyfoods Association of America’s board of directors at Denver, Colorado, about problems with sour and often undated tofu in America. The board asks Timmins to be head of a Soyfoods Association Standards Committee, and to appoint people to work with him in the development of standards.

1983 October 12–Timmins sends a 4-page survey letter concerning soyfoods standards to the 18-person Soyfoods Association Standards Committee that he has appointed.

1983 November–Various members of the Soyfoods Association discover that David Mintz, CEO of Tofu Time, Inc. and maker of Tofutti brand soy ice cream, is using no tofu in his product, although he has repeatedly appeared on national TV and radio programs displaying and talking at length about tofu, thus implying that his product uses it as a major ingredient. On Nov. 11 Shurtleff writes Mintz and strongly-worded letter threatening to report the matter to the FDA and the Securities and Exchange Commission (Mintz is about to launch his first public stock offering) if Mintz fails to stop such deceptive practices. Mintz’s attorneys quickly notify Shurtleff that Mintz promises to put tofu back into Tofutti. Shurtleff, seeing the need for tofu standards to stop this sort of consumer deception, becomes active in the standards development.

1984 March 2–Based on responses to his October 1983 survey, Timmins drafts preliminary 3-page tofu standards (2 pages of which are microbiological standards), that he circulates to the Soyfoods Standards Committee, inviting comments. March 6, William Shurtleff expands these, keys them into The Soyfoods Center word processor, and returns them promptly to Timmins.

1984 Feb.–Timmins and Shurtleff draw up a ten-step set of procedures and a time line for appointment of a Tofu Standards Committee, development of two drafts of tofu standards, and final approval by the Soyfoods Association Board of Directors in July 1984.

1984 March 29–First Draft of Tofu Standards, 15 pages and double spaced, is compiled by Shurtleff on his word processor. As is inevitable with a document of this type, a basic philosophy that shapes the standards has begun to emerge. Essentially it attempts to balance the varied (and often conflicting) commercial interests of the various groups involved with the standards in a way that is as fair as possible to all, considers existing historical precedents and FDA laws, and allows tofu to develop and modernize in the way that it has been since the 1930s. One of the major questions that arises at the outset is whether or not the use of isolated soy proteins (isolates) should be allowed in tofu and, if so, under what conditions and with what labeling requirements. Readers of the first draft are polled on this question and the response is 17 to 4 in favor of allowing isolates, as long as each product is appropriately labeled.

In this first draft, the term “second generation” is first applied to soyfoods in the section titled “Naming Second Generation Commercial Food Products Containing Tofu.” By this time, Stephen H. McNamara, a food and drug specialist with the Washington, DC, law firm of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara is actively serving as an advisor on the standards, reviewing each draft, and making many helpful suggestions. Tom Donegan, of the same law firm, is also helping.

Subsequent drafts of the standards: 1984 June 16– Second draft. Nov. 1–Fourth draft. 1985 March 6–Sixth draft. March 20–Seventh draft, which is submitted to the FDA for comments. Then begins a serious industry conflict over the standards.  

1985 Oct. 3–Eighth draft, incorporating all FDA suggestions. A 2-page appendix to this document, titled “The Modernization of Tofu in Japan,” gives a brief chronology of the many changes in the way of manufacturing “traditional tofu” from the 1930s to the present. It challenges the idea that “traditional tofu” is widely made today.  

1986 January, Ron Ishida an attorney with no previous knowledge of tofu, working for Azumaya Inc., rewrites the Tofu Standards without authorization. They have already gone through 8 drafts. This creates a conflict and ended up destroying the standards and preventing their adoption and implementation. [Imported aseptic Morinaga Long-life Silken Tofu was a growing force in the U.S. tofu market, so Azumaya hired an attorney to spend considerable time causing troubles for Morinaga. This was one. RR]

On April 18, William Shurtleff, in charge of compiling the original tofu standards, submits a strong criticism of the illegitimate Ishida draft in the form of a detailed chronology of the development of the tofu standards. 


And there it died.

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