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Bioengineered beans could help improve human health

Associated Press

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- The mere mention of artery-clogging trans fat, which can raise cholesterol and increase the risk for heart attack or stroke, strikes terror into the hearts of health food nuts.

Starting next year and on a limited basis, some farmers will be growing a type of bioengineered soybean that can produce oil capable of reducing -- or in some cases -- eliminating trans fat without sacrificing the quality of food products.

Although manufacturers think the healthier product known as low-linolenic soybean oil has the potential to revolutionize the $5 billion soybean oil market, local farmers and food producers are more hesitant to embrace it.

"I don't think the farmers are aware of what even the possibilities are," said Roger Hadley II, a Woodburn soybean farmer.

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Indiana will have the chance to grow the specialized soybeans beginning in 2006. Two competing low-linolenic soybeans oils introduced this fall could replace the partly hydrogenated soybean oil that adds trans fat to many fried foods and baked goods, manufacturers say.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and Nutrium, a brand formed from an alliance between White Plains, N.Y.-based Bunge Limited and Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont, both plan to sell low-linolenic soybean oil to food manufacturers beginning in late 2005.

Nutrium expects to produce 1 billion pounds of the oil by 2009 to meet anticipated demand, said Deb Seidel, a spokeswoman for Bunge North America, Bunge Limited's operating branch in North America.

Low-linolenic soybean oil offers a potential solution for food manufacturers facing new trans fat labeling requirements.

Starting in 2006, the Food and Drug Administration will require all food labels to disclose the amount of trans fat in the product. Some major food manufacturers, including potato chip maker Frito-Lay Inc. and McDonald's, already eliminated or reduced the amount of trans fat in their products in preparation for the labeling deadline.

Fort Wayne-based Perfection Bakeries Inc., which makes Aunt Millie's bread and baked goods, changed its muffin recipe in preparation for the labeling deadline.

Perfection Bakeries removed partly hydrogenated shortening from the recipe a month ago, which eliminated the trans fat in the muffins, said Rod Radlia, the company's technical services director.

"We're trying to be proactive and take it out right away," he said.

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Most of Perfection Bakeries' products contain liquid soybean oil, which does not contain trans fat.

Trans fat forms when hydrogen is added to the oil to give it a longer shelf life and a more solid consistency, said Seidel, of Bunge North America. The specially bred soybeans contain less linolenic acid than regular soybeans.

The oil made from the low-linolenic soybeans has the correct shelf life and consistency for use in food production without undergoing partial hydrogenation, Seidel said.

Any low-linolenic oil that food manufacturers buy next year will be made from soybeans grown in Iowa.

Agricultural company Monsanto bred its low-linolenic soybean so it could grow best in Iowa's climate, said Kelly Fleming, Monsanto's commercial lead for soybean food traits.

The Nutrium soybean seed also will be offered only to Iowa farmers in its first year. Bunge will pay farmers an extra 40 cents above market price to grow the specialized soybean, Seidel said. The premium price adds nearly 8 percent to the value of the soybean, based on this year's average market price. The higher price will cover the farmers' added costs; low-linolenic soybeans must be grown, harvested and stored separately from other varieties of soybeans, she said.

Value-added technologies such as low-linolenic soybean oil could give American farmers an edge in the competitive international soybean market, said Hadley, the Woodburn farmer.

But to make it work, farmers will have to find a way to separate specially bred soybeans from other varieties, he said.

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Without having farms that specialize in the low-linolenic soybean, the types can intermingle, eliminating any added value.

"It will not be a soybean everybody can look at growing," Hadley said.

But demand for the healthier soybean oil is likely to grow as consumers learn more about trans fat.

Perfection Bakeries is seeing growing awareness of trans fat in its consumer focus groups, Radlia said.

At four focus groups in Detroit and Chicago, 88 percent of about 50 consumers interviewed identified a lack of trans fat as a positive thing.

The low-carb trend made many consumers more conscious of food labels, Radlia said, and awareness of trans fat is a part of the same trend.

"That's definitely the direction it's going," he said.

Distributed by The Associated Press

End Adv13-14

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