Natural Foods Merchandiser

Pursuit of Soybean Without Trans Fats Raises Interest, Concerns

The latest salvo in the war on trans fats comes from what many may see as an unlikely source: Monsanto.

The biopharm giant has developed a soybean it says will reduce or eliminate trans fats in processed soybean oil. What's more, the legume was bred without the use of genetic engineering. However, the company says the soybean is Roundup Ready, or able to withstand application of Monsanto's own Roundup herbicide.

At first blush, that doesn't seem possible, said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., since Roundup Ready is a trademarked trait. "It's a consumer beware [situation]," he said. But Christopher Horner, a spokesman for Monsanto, said it was bred through conventional means using soybeans that are already Roundup Ready. "Eighty-plus percent of the soybeans in the States are Roundup Ready," he said. This soybean was developed with that trait "in order to make it sound economically for all parties involved." Horner said a Roundup Ready soybean lets farmers use less herbicide.

The new soybean contains less than 3 percent linolenic acid, compared with 8 percent in typical soybeans. That results in a more stable oil with a better flavor profile and less need for hydrogenation, the company says. The soybean will be the first crop marketed under Monsanto's VISTIVE brand, which it will market as a line of products offering direct consumer benefits.

"We're talking to a variety of food manufacturers, obviously, given the Jan. 1, 2006, trans fat deadline, who are really interested in this type of technology, some of whom offer a variety of products under the 'natural' label," Horner said. "What particular products they're going to be putting this into is really their call."

Monsanto plans to offer the new soybean to growers in Iowa for the 2005 crop season Growers will work under contract with participating processors, who will crush the grain, refine the oil and market the oil to food companies. Processors will pay a premium to growers for the VISTIVE soybeans. U.S. consumption of soybean oil exceeds 18 million pounds annually, according to Monsanto officials.

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