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USA: New GM soybean with higher oleic acid content approved

(11 June 2010) The Department of Agriculture in the USA has approved a new, genetically modified (GM) soybean containing higher levels of oleic acid. This is the first of a series of GM plants that are poised to enter the market with a modified composition of nutrients.

After clearance by the American Department of Agriculture, the new soybean is now "deregulated": its cultivation in the USA is possible without particular restrictions, as is also the case with its processing and the commercialisation of its products. In a previous step, the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) already had given the green light.

The soybean was developed by Pioneer Hi-Breed, a daughter company of the DuPont chemical firm and displays a modified composition of fatty acids: it contains more oleic acid – a monounsaturated fatty acid – than other soybeans while its portion of saturated fatty acids has been reduced by around 20 per cent. Under intense heat, such as occurs during frying and broiling, such saturated fatty acids partly are transformed into trans fatty acids. These, in turn, contribute to higher readings of fat in the blood and therefore are viewed as questionable with regard to health and well-being. The modified spectrum of fatty acids in the soybean has not been achieved through the introduction of ‘foreign’ genes, but rather through the blocking of genes that already are present ( RNA interference or ‘anti-sense’).

Since 2006 in the USA, the presence of trans fatty acids must be declared on the labels of food products. For this reason, the food industry is interested in the marketing of products without such acids. Trans fatty acids also may be formed by specific processes of hydrogenation, in which plant oils are transformed into spreadable fats.

Due to the high proportion of oleic acids in the new GM soybean, the oils and fats produced from the bean may be prepared and used at high temperatures without formation of the undesired trans fatty acids.

According to statements from Pioneer, market entry for the new soybean (brand name Plenish, event code 305423) is planned in the USA for 2012. Until then, approval also will be a goal in other export-significant countries. The soybean is intended for contractual farming in the USA and in Canada in 2010 and 2011 and its oil will be subject to testing.

With the Plenish high-oleic-acid soybean, green gene technology has sketched a new phase. After the domination of plants with new agronomic qualities such as insect resistance or herbicide tolerance, plants now are entering the market that promise health advantages to consumers. Monsanto soon will be following suit with other GM soybeans that also deliver lower quantities of trans fatty acids while displaying a larger proportion of the omega-3 fatty acids that are regarded as advantageous to health.


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