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Soybean Oil, Meal and Beans United Soybean Board

Here comes gene-spliced soybean oil

A healthier high oleic soybean made from gene-splicing enters the market. How will consumers respond?

Good news for soybean farmers was announced on Feb. 26, 2019, in Minneapolis, MN. A company  claims it has made a major sale of High Oleic (oleic acid is a common monosaturated fat) Soybean Oil as a premium high-quality food ingredient.

The company, CALYXT, claims to be a consumer-centric food and agricultural company. It claims to have made the first commercial sale of soybean oil to the food service industry for frying, salad dressing, and sauce applications.

It further claims it’s soybean oil contains “…approximately 80% of oleic soybean oil and up to 20% less saturated fatty acids compared to commodity soybean oil as well as zero grams of trans fat per serving. The company claims the new soybean oil was developed by using gene splicing.  “[It]…has up to three times the fry life and extended shelf life compared to commodity oils, providing a more sustainable product.“

Why gene splicing is different

Gene editing, it is hoped, will be a great tool for agriculture as it delivers new products to the American consumer.

In the past, scientists have typically added genes from another organism to create biotech cotton, corn and soybeans and generally the gene added created herbicide tolerance. Gene splicing, or editing, is different. Genes are not moved between organisms; genes are removed, added or rearranged.

This new gene editing process, which you can read about in a book entitled “A Crack in Creation,” hopefully will not be as controversial as genetically modified organisms (GMO) and approved much faster.

According to a company press release over 100 farmers in the upper Midwest grew approximately 34,000 acres of High Oleic soybeans. These soybeans add a new cooking oil which will be a better competitor against olive, sunflower and safflower oils.

One gene technology is CRISPR which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats”. It is believed CRISPR gene splicing will be used across agriculture to produce faster growing tomatoes, which may be adaptable to a larger variety of climates.

As a recent Forbes article indicates, “CRISPR is much cheaper and more readily available than earlier forms of genetic engineering. Scientists anywhere in the world can get a CRISPR kit for $65 from the Broad Institute’s non-profit organization Addgene, which has helped create a global CRISPR boom.” Forbes, in its article, indicated CRISPR kits have been requested “…64,561 times by scientists in at least 67 countries.” 

Consumers must decide

It is still unanswered as to whether the consumer will accept gene edited products. The Minnesota company CALYXT used a different gene-splicing technology known as TALEN which is another gene-splicing technique; in this case, it removes genes which are responsible for trans fats in soybean oil. Now soybean oil will not need to have a process known as hydrogenation applied, which improves heat stability.  

The health benefits and extended shelf life in the grocery store for soybean oil should give us an early indication as to whether soybean producers will produce, and the consumer will purchase, a new product created by gene splicing.

The company states: “This historical commercialization of the first-ever gene-edited food product is a testament that food manufacturers and consumers are not only embracing innovation, but also willing to pay a premium for products which are healthier and traceable to the source”.

The loyal opposition

Of course, there is already opposition developing to the new gene-edited soybean oil. One entity, GMWatch, claims “technically, scientifically, legally (in the EU) this soybean oil is [a] GMO. American consumers are being misled.” This group apparently wants to stymie this new agriculture technology. GMWatch also argues gene edited foods are exempt from USDA’s complex regulatory process. Groups such as GMWatch likely will be bringing law suits to stymie this technology as they have attempted to slow the introduction of GMO products.

 The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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