Soybean Oil and Bread

Anyone Object to Taking Trans Fat Out of Soybean Oil?

Scientists in Minnesota are busy taking trans and saturated fats out of soybean oil. Of course, that’s a good thing. Right?

Editing Your Food’s Genes with CRISPR and TALEN

The first generation of genetically-modified foods was a bit clumsy. That started in the 1980s with “genetic engineering” that used bacteria and viruses used to modify the genes in plants. On top of that, this introduced genetic materials from other organisms. That meant that USDA required required field tests and environmental assessments. Naturally, all that rigamarole was costly. Only agribusiness giants like Monsanto had sufficiently deep pockets for that investment.

Now, more elegant technologies – CRISPR and TALEN – make DNA editing much simpler. Working like molecular scissors, these technologies can make very precise edits – without introducing any foreign DNA.

Because of that difference, the regulatory burden is light. For one thing, USDA is totally hands off. And FDA only gets involved on request. Or after a safety issue crops up. As a result, many companies are stepping up to innovate in this space.

For example, Calyxt is a subsidiary of a small French pharma startup. These are the folks developing soybean oil without any trans fat.

Dodging the GMO Baggage?

With this new technology, Calyxt seems to think it can sell its soybean oil as a non-GMO food product. New legislation that requires labeling of GMO ingredients may not apply to this technology – again because it contains no foreign genetic material.

European regulators aren’t really buying that argument. Thus, they’re restricting gene-edited crops in much the same way they restrict GMOs. Consumer Union’s Michael Hansen thinks it’s a mistake to hide the use of this new technology:

I don’t understand why the companies don’t want to be labeled. Not labeling gives the impression that they have something to hide. And consumer acceptance will depend on that.

Humans have been messing with the genes of animals and plants for a long, long time. But the techniques are getting slicker. Are we headed toward another fight about this latest technology?

We wouldn’t bet against it.

But How Healthful Is Soybean Oil?

And then, finally, we wonder if this doesn’t miss a much more important point. Just how healthful is all the soybean oil that’s going into our food supply? Sure, it’s cheap and plentiful. But with good reasons, many folks suggest that we’re using too much of it in our food.

Those reasons go beyond the very small amounts of trans fat in it. The reasons revolve around the types of fatty acids that soybean oil contains. Food scientists are trying to change this profile with gene editing.

But in the end, how much difference will these clever gene edits actually make? Right now, all we have are assumptions to answer that question.

Click here for more on gene editing for our food supply from Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post. Click here for more on health concerns about over-using soybean oil.

Soybean Oil and Bread, photograph © the United Soybean Board / flickr

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August 14, 2018

4 Responses to “Anyone Object to Taking Trans Fat Out of Soybean Oil?”

  1. August 14, 2018 at 6:31 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Very helpful stuff, Ted. Thank you.

    And while I’ve not yet read it, I’ve heard only good things about Juma’s book on why people resist innovation, below.


    • August 14, 2018 at 7:44 am, Ted said:

      Excellent recommendation, Joe. Thanks!

  2. August 14, 2018 at 11:22 am, John DiTraglia said:

    I didn’t know trans fats existed in nature. I thought they were all man made.

    • August 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm, Ted said:

      John, you raise good questions. Trans fats are relatively rare in nature, but they do exist. Soybean oil has them in low quantities. With only 0.1 gram of trans fat in a tablespoon of soybean oil, that’s low enough to be labeled as zero, even though it’s present.

      In addition, these gene editors are trying to reduce the content of saturated fats to further improve the health profile of soybean oil. But the health benefits are theoretical until and unless someone does a real study of health outcomes.