Bernard Deryckere, president of the European Natural Soy Association (ENSA), believes that while the future for soy is strong, EU regulations need to be updated to reflect the current reality.
"The biggest problem for soy food products is this legislative vacuum," he told FoodNavigator.
"We desperately need a legislative framework in which we can work in."
Indeed, in the last 20 years, the market for soy products has been revolutionised as European consumer behaviour has changed.
"Today, soy food products are sold in all supermarkets, and are often sold on the same shelf as dairy products," Deryckere told FoodNavigator. "Demand is growing."What's more, Deryckere claims that in future, animal protein will not be able to satisfy the world's protein needs. Soy is set to become an even more significant commodity.
But the problem, claims Deryckere, is that regulations have not kept pace. While European consumers are aware of the health benefits of a product such as, say, soymilk, and even call it 'soymilk', the product cannot be called soymilk because of old European regulations on milk.
And when in 1998 the EC adopted a list of vegetable-based products that could be labelled as 'milk', such as coconut milk or almond milk, soy was not accepted.
"We are therefore trying to change the old regulation which does not reflect any more the market reality," said Deryckere. "This situation creates confusion among consumers."
Another problem, according to ENSA, is that European food legislation still views soy products as specifically for people suffering from lactose intolerance or cow's milk protein allergies, when the truth is that soy food is now mainstream.
"Our products are still considered as food for a particular nutritional use," he said. "Thus, it is crucial for our association to raise awareness among EU officials about health benefits of soy's consumption which is part of a healthy balanced lifestyle for all categories of people."
As it stands, soy products are not able to make various nutritional claims such as the fact that they are cholesterol free or lactose free, even though this, says Deryckere, is the reality.
" ENSA has already managed to raise the debate among European institutions," he said. "We have endeavoured to explain to decision makers, who very often are not experts in nutrition, the specific characteristics of soy food products and the real status of the soy market."
In this context, Deryckere says that ENSA's actions related to health and nutrition claims regulation - which is currently under the process of adoption - has been vitally important.
"This misinformation about soy food has to be stopped."
So ENSA, which was established in January 2003 to represent the interests of natural soy food manufacturers in Europe, is clearly focused on redressing this so-called legislative vacuum. But another point of the association, says Deryckere, is to emphasise the word 'natural'.
"This refers to the production process used by ENSA members to produce non-dairy food products," he said. "This includes organic and conventional food such as drinks, desserts, spreads, yoghurts and meat alternatives using whole soybeans, as opposed to soy foods produced from isolates."
One of the aims therefore of ENSA is to raise awareness among consumers about the benefit of natural soy proteins and to promote these particular products. The problem, however, is that general public awareness of natural protein and why it is different from chemically derived isolates is not very well known.
ENSA members range from multinationals to small, family-owned businesses. Current members include Alpro, Triballat, Valsoia, Wild and Tofutown.