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.
     


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora