New kinds of oil could spill over millions of acres in the next few years — if soybeans developed with heart-healthy oil traits continue to clear field performance and regulatory hurdles.
The newest products clearing these hurdles are soybeans with improved fatty acid profiles, such as Plenish high-oleic soybeans and Vistive Gold low-linolenic soybeans.

In June, USDA approved Plenish soybeans for cultivation in the U.S. Developer Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, says Plenish soybeans contain the highest oleic-acid content (more than 75%) of any soybean product under commercial development.

Monsanto’s Vistive low-linolenic soybeans are being grown under contract this year. The company has sent submissions to the USDA and FDA for approval of Vistive Gold (formerly Vistive III) soybeans, which have low-linolenic and high-oleic oil traits and reduced saturated fat levels.

Plenish high-oleic soybeans are being grown under contract for field and oil testing in the U.S. and Canada this year and next. Full commercialization of the trait is expected in 2012, upon global regulatory approvals and ongoing field test results. Canada and Mexico have already completed regulatory reviews of the Plenish trait.

Market size
The potential market for high-oleic soybeans could be as high as 15 million to 20 million acres, says Russ Sanders, director of enhanced oils, Pioneer. In addition to food uses, high-oleic oils could replace petroleum-based products for manufacturing a number of industrial products, including lubricants, adhesives, plastics and foam.

High-oleic and low-linolenic varieties will help soybeans regain some of the 7 million acres lost for food applications after the FDA mandated trans fat labeling of foods beginning in 2006. Prior to that, almost 50% of the oil consumed in the U.S. was hydrogenated soybean oil.

The food industry reduced its use of hydrogenated soybean oil by converting to alternative vegetable oils, such as canola, palm, corn, cotton and sunflower. “As a result, over the last five years there has been significant erosion in the demand for soybean oil in food,” says Roy Fuchs, global technology lead for oilseeds, Monsanto. “Historically, approximately 40% of the commodity value of soybeans was derived from oil.”

Currently, a little less than one million acres are planted to low-linolenic soybeans, according to Monsanto’s estimates. Farmers are paid a premium of up to $0.60/bu. for producing, handling and segregating Vistive I soybeans from commodity soybeans.

Because some of the advanced soybean oils being tested now will not have to be hydrogenated, food manufacturers, chefs and others will have alternatives “without sacrificing flavor and overall [oil] stability,” says Charlie Baggs, president and executive chef, Charlie Baggs Inc. (CBI), Chicago, IL. CBI is an international food-service consulting company, specializing in product development for food manufacturers. Baggs uses a variety of oils in his business, each dependent on the application.

High-oleic-acid soybean oil helps food companies meet consumer demands for zero trans fats with high oxidative and heat stability, says Lalita Kaul, a national spokesperson with the American Dietetic Association and a professor in the College of Medicine at Howard University in Washington, DC. The oleic-acid content in high-oleic-acid soybean oil is similar to that in olive oil, she adds.

“We expect that Vistive Gold soybeans will reduce saturated fat levels by about 50% versus commodity soybeans oils,” says Monsanto’s Fuchs, noting that the new soybean line features both high-oleic-acid and low-linolenic-acid content as well as reduced saturated fat.

This second-generation product builds on Monsanto’s existing Vistive I soybeans. “Our tests have shown positive results in product quality and stability. We’re working with food companies to evaluate the oil in their specific products and operations,” Fuchs says.

Biotech challenge
The new soybean oils should be welcomed by a public concerned about fat intake. However, some varieties are being developed using genetic modification, which concerns many consumers.

“Vistive I was actually developed through conventional breeding,” Fuchs says. “Vistive Gold builds on that and uses biotechnology to significantly improve the stability of the oil, while reducing saturates for a healthier nutritional profile and maintaining the economic advantages of soybean oil.”

Monsanto plans to commercialize the new soybeans in the U.S. and Canada first. “We expect food products that contain either oil or protein from Vistive Gold will be accepted in these countries given the current acceptance of foods developed from soybean containing biotechnology traits,” Fuchs says.

The company will continue to work with food and biotechnology industries for countries in which biotech-derived products have not been broadly accepted, like the European Union. “However, we understand the size of the challenge for acceptance of biotechnology-derived products and expect that acceptance will be a slow process,” Fuchs says.

Both Monsanto and Pioneer have conducted tests to show that the oils produced from the new soybeans are no different from an allergenic perspective than conventional soybeans.

Both companies also point to several organizations that have stated that biotech-derived foods are safe to eat, including the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association.

Grower premiums
Premiums for growing soybeans with the oil traits have not yet been determined. With Plenish, Pioneer is working to learn more about its value to all the players in the chain. “Value needs to be shared and we’re working through what premiums should be for farmers,” Sanders says. “That’s why agronomics and yield performance are important.” He adds that the Plenish trait has been incorporated into Pioneer’s Y series soybeans and that three years of test data indicate Plenish soybeans yield as well as frontline Y series soybeans without this oil trait.

“As with many identity-preserved traits, we would expect to see a premium to grow soybeans with the trait, especially in the early stages of launching to encourage growers to try something new,” Fuchs says.


Monsanto will launch Vistive as a stacked trait product with Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield for improved yield opportunity. “Last year was the fifth season of yield trial testing, and field trials across the Midwest confirmed performance and the product concept,” Fuchs says. “We will know more this fall once the 2010 field trials are harvested. Meanwhile, early observations are promising.”

 

Photo courtesy of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.