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The case for soya beans

It’s value has been chronicled for almost 5,000 years. It finds it’s way into fuels, inks, wax, crayon, oils, drinks, flours, sauces, nuts, sprouts, and a host of other end-uses. It serves as the primary food source for fully 2/3 of the planet’s population and has been a staple in Eastern diets for thousands of years. Unknown in the west prior to 1760 and virtually ignored here until the 1960’s, it now provides over half of the world’s oilseed production and is also the only plant protein to contain all of the essential amino acids. It has been shown to lower blood cholesterol and reduce the incidence of heart disease, breast cancer, and osteoporosis. On a pound-for-pound basis it contains more protein than lean beef, and it would hardly be a stretch to classify this as one of the most vital and beneficial plants on earth. We’re talking about the venerable soybean, of course.

While I try to avoid high-minded, moralistic rants in this column, I just can’t avoid it in this case. The U.S. is the largest producer of soybeans on earth and fully 90% are destined for livestock consumption. Much suffering from malnourishment and starvation could be avoided if this bean found it’s way into the hands of the destitute rather than the stomachs of animals destined for fast-food outlets. Put another way, if we are to feed an overcrowded world, it will be with soya, not Big Macs. (For more on this topic see Frances Moore Lappe’s ground-breaking book “Diet for a Small Planet”, or Eric Schlosser’s eye-opening best-seller “Fast Food Nation”).

The growing imbroglio over genetically versus non-genetically modified foods also impacts heavily on world-wide soya cultivation. I’ll avoid wading into that debate, but to say I’d sure like to see a clear label on the grocer’s shelves so that I can at least choose between GM or non-GM foods. Rhetoric from companies like Monsanto, that would have you believe all GM foods are perfectly safe, reminds me of what Union Carbide said when they built their infamous pesticide plant in Bhopal, India.

So with soya no longer confined to the ‘health food store’ and gaining in popularity as an alternative to animal-based proteins, you might wonder how to invest a few of your beans in this, the king of beans. Well, try chewing on this.

STAKE TECHNOLGY SOY-TSX and STAK-NASDAQ

This Canadian-based success story, soon to change their name to Sun Opta, operates in three distinct business lines. The majority of their revenue arises from their Food Group, which sources organically-certified, non-GM soybeans and other grains, and turns them into various products for the table. Stake is the largest producer of soymilk concentrate in the U.S. and the only one integrated from field to table, or from the sale of seed through to blending and packaging of finished soymilk products.Stake also has an Environmental/Industrial Group that is chiefly involved in the cleaning of ships and bridges with a proprietary abrasive that is environmentally benign. Their third business line is the Steam Explosion Technology Group. Stake uses another proprietary technology that involves subjecting fibrous materials to high pressures, allowing them to produce pulp for paper from straw and other non-wood fibers.From certain technical standpoints, shares in Stake are tough to swallow at it’s July 1st closing price of Cdn$9.50. Some might argue that this lofty price is justified by the company’s stature as one of the fastest 100 growing companies in Canada, but that $9.50 does represent an almost 300% increase from it’s 52-week low. This is one of those cases where an investor has to wonder if they have already missed the boat. Momentum players and growth-oriented managers love stocks like this however, and may push it’s price in the short-term higher still.

I like the fact that this company has demographics on it’s side as a new generation of young shoppers makes more informed decisions at the grocers. Also working in their favour is the fact that they are employing a variety of proprietary technologies that make it difficult for competitors to penetrate their markets. For complete details on Stake Technology, including their 2002 annual report, I would suggest you visit their website at www.staketech.com.

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