Ahead of new rules on the labelling of trans fatty acids in the US due in 2006, biotech group Monsanto has designed low-linolenic soybeans that can make a soybean oil for food firms looking to eliminate trans fats in food formulations.
Ten years in development, the firm said the new soybeans - produced through conventional breeding methods - contain less than 3 per cent linolenic acid, compared to 8 per cent for traditional soybeans.
"Because soybeans with less linolenic acid reduce or eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation, trans fats in processed soybean oil can be reduced or eliminated," said the St.Louis-based firm, which has courted controversy over its development of genetically modified foodstuffs.
Trans fats, created in the partial hydrogenation process of food production, are becoming the bête noir of the food industry as new science suggests they could be linked to heart disease, because they lower HDL (good) cholesterol while raising LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Market demand for ways to cut the trans fats from food products is on the up, boosted in the US by a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling that means by 1 January 2006 all food manufacturers operating in the US will have to clearly label the levels of trans fatty acids fats in their foods.
While there are no such labelling rules in the European Union, certain national governments are pushing for change. Last year Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce restrictions on the use of industrially produced trans fatty acids. Oils and fat are now forbidden on the Danish market if they contain trans fatty acids exceeding 2 per cent.
Monsanto said last week that the vistive soybeans are ready for the US 2005 crop season, and aer expected to grab a substantial share of the 18 billion pounds of soybean oil sold annually in the US. Producers will grow the soybeans under contract with participating soybean processors, which will crush the grain, refine the oil and market that oil to food companies.