World War II, U.S. Soy Regulations, and Their Transnational Consequences

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 12:10 PM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Ines Prodoehl, German Historical Institute
To coordinate the supply and consumption of food during World War II, the United States and Great Britain established the Combined Food Board in 1942, and Canada joined the following year. The aim of this civilian organization was to plan the expeditious utilization of available food resources. Because of their immense versatility, American-grown soybeans were promoted in a variety of ways: Soybean oil served for margarine and shortening and soy-protein could be used as meat substitute. Whole beans and the residue of the milling process were useful as animal fodder and fertilizer, which were also under the Board’s control. These uses had been developed during the first half of the twentieth century when the soybean became increasingly important in the American economy. The federal government actively promoted soy cultivation during the New Deal, and the industry received a strong stimulus from war-related political and economic concerns in the 1940s. By the end of World War II, American farmers supplied more than two-thirds of the world’s demand for soybeans, making it one of the United States' most important cash crops.

Despite its wide-ranging purview, the Combined Food Board’s successes and failures depended largely on strategic and political considerations and the availability of shipping. The Combined Food Board worked collaboratively with nutritionists, agriculturalists, and entrepreneurs, assembling a global network of soy advocates. This network’s efforts to coordinate food consumption and distribution became a model for postwar global food policy. When the organization officially closed in 1946, many of its activities and personnel were channeled into the United Nation’s Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

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