News / Science & Technology

Biotech Soybeans Promise Heart Benefits

Engineered to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, these soybeans could change negative perceptions of genetically modified foods

Monsanto's high-omega-3 soybeans
Monsanto's high-omega-3 soybeans

Multimedia

Audio

Genetically modified foods have been controversial ever since they were introduced. But a new variety of GM soybean nearing commercialization promises to deliver health benefits that could change how people think about agricultural biotechnology.

Today's genetically modified crops are designed to help farmers by making weed and insect control easier. But they're not designed to help consumers, says Jane Rissler, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"The farmers and the companies have profited and benefited, and consumers have taken whatever risks there are," she says.

In the decade or more since GM crops have been on the market, those perceived risks to the natural environment and to human health, have not materialized. But many consumers remain uncomfortable with anyone tinkering with their food. That's especially true in Europe, where farmers are prohibited from growing most GM crops.

Monsanto readies GM soybean oil

But a new crop could complicate the picture. The giant U.S. seed and biotech company Monsanto is on the verge of introducing genetically modified soybeans that produce substantial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that a diet rich in omega-3s is good for the heart and the brain. 

Roy Fuchs heads soybean research at Monsanto. He says conversations with European regulators about the new omega-3-rich soybeans have been encouraging.

"They have been saying for the last decade or two, 'When will biotechnology deliver a trait that consumers can see, they can experience, and benefit [from] themselves?' So, they see this as really the first of a number of products that will have direct consumer benefits and an opportunity to change the conversation from productivity to human health," Fuchs explains.

Will consumers eat up GM ingredients for their health?

Omega-3 rich GM soybeans could change the conversation because soybean oil is practically ubiquitous in Western processed foods. It's in everything from breads and granola bars to salad dressings. Fuchs says you could get your full daily allotment of one type of omega-3s just by eating three products made with the new soybean oil.

Products like salad dressings and mayonnaise made with high-omega-3 soybean oil could provide health benefits.
Products like salad dressings and mayonnaise made with high-omega-3 soybean oil could provide health benefits.

These days, Fuchs takes a capsule of fish oil every day to get his omega-3s, "But I'd much rather have my yogurt and granola bar and salad dressing with omega-3 than have to take a capsule every morning," he says.

Providing convenient ways to increase the amount of omega-3s in the American diet could provide some real benefits, according to University of Southern California pharmacology professor Roger Clemens, a spokesman for the American Society for Nutrition.

"Particularly as our population gets older, this population's at the highest risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and obviously Alzheimer's [disease]," he says. "So, those five major [diseases] may be impacted by this type of [decision] to provide more omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet."

While few would argue that a food rich in omega-3 fatty acids would be a healthful addition to any diet, skeptics aren't convinced that Monsanto's genetically modified soybean is the best source for those nutrients.

Will perceived risks outweigh possible benefits?

And questions remain about possible health risks from the GM soybean oil itself, Rissler says.

"This is a rather substantial interference with the oil metabolism processes of soybeans," she says. "And this, to us, raises some potential -- and I say potential -- safety issues that we think need more careful consideration," she adds.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave its approval to Monsanto's soybean oil. But Rissler says the FDA's approval process relies too heavily on the company's own safety testing data.

Monsanto expects their omega-3 soybean oil to hit the market in the next few years. Then, the question will be whether consumers warm to genetically modified foods made with their health in mind, or remain wary of anyone tinkering with the fundamental chemistry of their food.
 

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid