Trans fat ban helps push new GMO oils by Monsanto, Dupont

The new federal push to purge artery-clogging trans fats from foods could be just what the doctor ordered for the unpopular biotechnology industry, specifically, two developers of genetically modified crops.
The developers, Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, have manipulated the genes of the soybean to radically alter the composition of its oil to make it longer-lasting.
It’s too soon to tell if food companies and restaurants will embrace the oils. But the policy proposed last week by the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate trans fats could make the marketing job easier.
Despite industry promises to create better-tasting or more nutritional foods, virtually all the biotech crops introduced since 1996 have been aimed at helping farmers control weeds and insects.
“We have been told if we have a product that is beneficial to consumers it will be much more acceptable,” said John Becherer, chief executive of the United Soybean Board, which funds research using money collected from farmers.
The board is putting $60 million into the development and marketing of the altered beans in an effort to stem losses that soybean oil has suffered to palm oil and canola oil as concerns about trans fats have mounted.
Soybean oil turns rancid relatively quickly, limiting the shelf life of foods containing it and requiring restaurants to change their frying oil frequently. To make it last longer, and also to solidify it for use in baked goods, the oil can be treated with hydrogen gas. But that process, partial hydrogenation, also creates trans fats.
About two billion pounds of partly hydrogenated soy oil were still in use, mainly in baked goods, where a more solid consistency is needed and the amounts used can be small enough to avoid the labeling requirement.
Both Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybeans and DuPont Pioneer’s Plenish soybeans are engineered to silence the gene for an enzyme that converts oleic fatty acid into linoleic acid. Monsanto’s beans have a second genetic modification that lowers the level of saturated fats.
People involved in the new soybean oil say that many food companies and restaurant chains, including the giants, are now testing the new oils.
“We’re sold out in 2013 and 2014,” said John Jansen, vice president for regulatory, quality and innovation at Bunge, an oil manufacturer working with DuPont and Monsanto.
It has been more than three years since the Agriculture Department approved DuPont’s Plenish soybeans for commercial planting and nearly two years since it approved Vistive Gold soybeans. Yet the crops are grown on only limited acreage, though that is partly by design until Europe grants permission to import the beans. And neither the seed companies nor the oil processors, citing confidentiality agreements, would name a single customer who is either using or testing the oils.
Monsanto and Dow could face competition from a high-oleic soybean developed through conventional breeding, not genetic engineering, by researchers at the University of Missouri and the Agriculture Department.
Critics of biotech crops question whether the new biotech crops are really produced to benefit consumers, since most food companies have already eliminated trans fats.
Bill Freese, a researcher at the Center for Food Safety, said the crops should have undergone more extensive safety testing because the genetic engineering changed the levels of many components, not just the targeted fatty acids.
Monsanto, DuPont and oil processors say that the fact that the new beans are genetically engineered has not deterred potential customers. That could be because almost all soybeans and canola are already genetically engineered.
The same properties that make them last in the fryer could also make them desirable for industrial uses, perhaps as lubricants.

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