Soybeans are an incredibly useful crop necessary around the world for their protein content and their use in creating oils. However, the health liabilities of using soybean oil cause a danger to the public- soybean, when cooked or fried on intense heat create trans-fat- and so DuPont has created “Plenish” soybeans genetically engineered to reduce the amount of trans-fat in their soy.
To put into perspective how in demand soybean oil is, the website Soyconnection states in their article “Soybean Oil Uses and Overview” that, due to its use in numerous food products such as margarine, shortenings, mayonnaise, salad dressings, frozen foods, imitation dairy and meat, and baked goods, soybean oil is the most highly used food oil in America and takes up 55% of the market of vegetable oils. While this is obviously good for those in the industry there is a problem with such widespread use of soybeans as oil- the health content.
As reported on GMO-Compass.org, the amount of oleic content available in soybeans is around 23% with higher linoleic acid content. Genetically modified soybeans have a much higher available amount of oleic content at 86%, with a correspondingly lower amount of linoleic acid. The report, “Soya Bean”, goes on to state that it is the linoleic acid that causes the formation of trans fat during the high temperature heating/frying process, and that soybeans like Plenish form less trans-fat as a result.
The health benefits do not end there. The article “A GMO Soybean, Engineered to Improve Your Health” on fastcoexist.com reports that in addition to lessening the amount of trans-fat, the higher oleic acid content contributes in other ways. The monounsaturated fatty acid is already a main component of heart healthy oils in general, and they contain lower saturated fats in addition to trans-fats, which are culprits in exacerbating high blood pressure. Furthermore, oleic acid plays a large role in maintaining the shelf life of soybean products, improving it to about two to three times the length of normal soybean oil products on the market.
There’s a practical farming benefit to the use of modified soybeans over, say, high oleic canola oil. Soybeans are both a highly planted crop, taking up lots of farming space, and they are also very resilient, allowing much of the crop to be harvested even in times of hardships or distress. Making healthier soybeans used in the majority of vegetable oils then aims to be a win-win scenario: there are more plentiful and resilient soybeans to be used in the most produced type of oil in America.
Time will tell if it catches on, though. As the fastcoexist article goes on to mention, unfortunately for DuPont their visual of popular low trans-fat products took too long to make a reality. Because of the time it takes for genetically modified plants to pass rigorous testing and inspections, not only has rival Monsanto come out with their own version named “Vistive Gold”, but producers of other oil products (like that of the aforementioned canola oil) have already moved to corner the market on less trans-fat oils. In addition to that, the stigma surrounding the use of genetically modified plant products, with modified soybeans being a particular focus, has limited the planting and sale of the Plenish soybeans on the world market. There is hope that soybeans can serve as an ambassador of sorts about the wondrous benefits of genetic modification, but in case there isn’t enough interest or market share left for them as edibles there one more option- industrial uses, like use in foam packing and hydraulic fluid.
United Soybean Board. (2016). Soybean Uses and Overview. SoyConnection.
Gmo-Compass. (2010). USA: New GM soybean with higher oleic acid content approved. Gmo-Compass.org.
Schwartz, A. (2014). A GMO Soybean, Engineered To Improve Your Health. Fastcoexist.