WASHINGTON – More scientific research is needed before an international standard conversion factor for measuring protein content in soy products is established —a determination that could have potential market impacts on the soy and dairy industries, experts said Tuesday.

The comments came at a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling. The panel is part of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was established by the United Nations in 1963 and is headquartered in Italy. The commission is responsible for releasing proper international food inspection guidelines each year. 

A soy products protein content is measured by testing its nitrogen levels and using a conversion factor to calculate the total. The Codex Committee of Asia has already weighed in, advocating for a 5.71 conversion rate in 2013, which is significantly lower than the typical 6.25 factor. It could cut the cost of soy products, said Gregory Noonan, director of the division of bioanalytical chemistry in the FDA.

“The U.S. position on soy protein conversion rates could have implications on what ends up on a food label, but it could have a larger impact on how soy is traded,” Noonan said.

The meeting was held at the USDA headquarters in Washington to consider more viewpoints before the United States unveils its position on protein sampling methods at the commission’s meeting late next month in Budapest, Hungary.

Barry Tulk of DuPont Nutrition & Health Analytical Science said the company  hopes to take part in the research and in a working group as the U.S. sampling position is prepared.

“We are nowhere near the point to make a decision [on the conversion factor],” Tulk said. “There are many other proteins out there that will face similar situations– think about how many we consume every day.”

Doctors and nutritionists recommend protein in the diet because it improves the body’s maintenance— repairing cells, building tissue and much more.

Associates of the dairy industry attended the meeting knowing that a standard protein conversion factor for soy could negatively impact sales.

Using a default conversion factor (of 6.25) for soy falsely equates soy and dairy products from a nutritional and quality standpoint, said John Allan of the International Dairy Foods Association.

“Milk proteins are considered more high quality with a recognized 6.38 protein conversion factor,” Allan said. “If the Codex sets the default 6.25 for soy, it will falsely increase the amount of protein calculated, and give soy products an elevation in content that should be lower.”

Noonan said the committee will not ignore effects on industry, but will have a focus on gathering the correct scientific definition for protein sampling methods.

“The U.S. is very open in regards to a final position at this year’s conference, and it is possible no standard will even be set after the session in Budapest,” he said. “This process has identified a number of mistakes and errors within the standards that we hope will be addressed further.”