Get trans fat out of U.S. food. That’s what the FDA has mandated, a move that could have a multi-billion dollar impact – not to mention a multi-million acre opportunity for soybean growers.
Companies will need to comply with the FDA to remove partially hydrogenated oils from its food by June 2018. The food industry could incur $6.2 billion over the next two decades from reformulating its products and substituting new ingredients. (This is more than offset by the expected $140 billion in benefits to lower spending on healthcare.)
For the agriculture industry, the trans fat ban could ignite new interest in growing soybeans that have high oleic oil content, which have many of the stability and functionality of partially hydrogenated oils, minus the trans fats.
“High oleic soybeans represent a key evolution in soybean farmers’ ability to meet the needs of our customers,” says American Soybean Association president and Texas farmer Wade Cowan. “But we’ve emphasized to FDA all along that we need the time to get the high oleic trait integrated into soybean varieties and approved in overseas markets so we can produce what the industry demands.”
Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer have each developed high oleic soybean brands that are in limited production. Russ Sanders, director of food and industry markets for DuPont Pioneer, says there are 200,000 acres planted to Plenish high oleic soybeans this crop season, and the expectation is for robust growth following the FDA ban.
“We hope to more than double every year for the foreseeable future,” he says.
Sanders estimates as many as 18 million acres of high oleic soybeans in total are possible as demand ramps up.
Norm Sissons, soybean product management lead at Monsanto, says it’s exciting to rethink a crop that is today mostly regarded for its protein content.
“The oil component of soybeans is something that we can continue to improve,” he says. “What’s traditionally been a byproduct can now be a big opportunity, both for farmers and consumers.
These high oleic oils, such as Plenish and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybeans, require several components. These soybeans have to be bred for nutritional content, stability during cooking and frying, and even flavor profile.
That, plus a positive sustainability story, could give high oleic soybeans the edge over potential competitors such as palm oil, which has a higher saturated fat content and is linked to rampant deforestation concerns in Indonesia, where it is primarily grown.
“Soybean oil contains no trans fat, is low in saturated fat, is sustainable and is broadly available for the food industry here in the United States,” Cowan says. “We hope our partners in the food industry will utilize the timeframe FDA has provided and join us as we move seamlessly to high oleic soybean oil to replace PHOs.”