Newly Approved GM Soybean Promises Health Benefits

Published July 13, 2010

Consumers eager for a more nutritional diet got some good news in early June when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (DOA) approved a new type of genetically modified soybean containing healthier oils.

New Health Benefits
Unlike other biotech crops grown in the United States, which are altered for resistance to diseases and insects, the high-oleic soybean has been engineered for nutritional purposes.  Developed by DuPont and pending approval by USDA since 2006, the soybean has no trans fats and will produce oil with omega-3 fatty acid for use in yogurt, granola, and spreads. The soybean and its oils will undergo further testing this year and should be ready for commercial use no later than 2012.

Upon entering the market, the DuPont soybean will join two varieties of biotech soybeans developed by archrival Monsanto. The Monsanto soybeans are awaiting approval by USDA, and like their DuPont counterparts they have no trans fats and contain oil with heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acid.

The medical community has long recognized the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in maintaining a healthy heart. Soybean oil is not normally a good source of omega-3, but research presented last November at an American Heart Association conference showed bioengineering could develop soybean oil with a component that the body converts efficiently to a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid.

More than 80 percent of the U.S. soybean crop has been genetically modified through bioengineering.

Longstanding Crop Improvements
Biotechnology is almost as old as agriculture itself, as early farmers quickly learned to crossbreed crops to isolate or encourage particular genetic traits. In modern times, increasingly sophisticated plant-breeding techniques have dramatically altered our food supply. Virtually all of the 200 major crops grown in the United States have been genetically improved in some way.

Activists Continue Targeting Biotech
Modern agricultural biotechnology has been strongly criticized by some environmental activist groups. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club have been particularly outspoken in opposing biotech, sometimes dubbing GM crops “Frankenfoods.”  Other green groups denouncing GM crops include Environmental Defense Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, Pew Initiative of Food and Biotechnology, Resources for the Future, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“In spite of the monumental financial and humanitarian successes of genetically engineered crops, anti-biotech activists continue to oppose them,” said Henry Miller, a physician and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Their ‘successes’ at eliciting and maintaining unscientific and excessive regulation have only ‘protected’ us from further innovation and misled the public.”

Instead of protecting Americans from dangerous foods, opposition to biotechnology has instead harmed people by restricting healthy food options, said Miller.

“We’ll never recover the opportunity costs of anti-technology activists’ mindless opposition [to biotechnology] and gratuitous regulation,” Miller explained.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research.