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 Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison 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 Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More