October 27, 2009
Monsanto Wins FDA Soy Omega 3 Approval

Monsanto's genetic engineering to make soy beans produce omega 3 fatty acids (the kinds found in fish) has approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration made public its ruling that the oil produced by GM soybeans is safe to eat, meaning food companies can begin testing it in products such as margarine.

Developed by biotech giant Monsanto, the soybean is the first GM plant that has claimed health benefits for consumers, not just economic benefits to farmers. Two other companies, BASF (PDF) and Du Pont, say they are not far behind.

In Europe the specter of genetically modified (GM) foods elicits enormous political opposition. But in the United States people have much less fear of genetic engineering and I expect soybeans loaded with the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA won't stir up much opposition.

I see this as a positive development for aquaculture because the soy could be used as part of the feed for salmon and other farmed fish. This would provide the farmed fish with a source of DHA and EPA without resorting to catching fish in the ocean to feed the farmed fish as is currently done.

A few years ago Monsanto was projecting high omega 3 soybeans to hit the market in 2011 or 2012. Sounds like they might hit the market sooner. Though I wonder if they've got to spend some years just growing soy to plant the resulting beans to grow even more soy before they have enough for large scale agriculture.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 October 27 07:34 PM  Trends Resource Depletion

Lono said at October 28, 2009 9:06 AM:

This would indeed be great news if someone other than Monsanto were doing it.

Their sloppy methods and egregious lack of concern for public health is legendary.

Guaranteed these crops will also be modified to be roundup resistant - which comes with it's own potentially negative health issues.

Also Monsanto - true to form - will make sure their army of lobbyists ensure these products have absolutely no transparency in the marketplace.

F that company - it's bad science and bad public policy!

Mica V said at October 28, 2009 9:11 AM:

Thanks for your coverage of our new Omega-3 soybean product. We’re really excited about this project and the positive health and environmental benefits associated with a land-based source of SDA Omega-3s.

The product is still several years away from hitting the commercial market. Over the next few years, food companies will test the oil to ensure it meets their standards and does not affect taste, quality or shelf life of their products. As you noted, we will begin working on seed bulk-up and working with our farmer customers to prepare them to plant the soybean and ensure a consistent supply of oil.

I’ve had the opportunity to taste the oil in test products, and I can say there is no taste difference in the improved oil—no fishy taste. More information can be found on our Web site here:

Mica V said at October 28, 2009 9:35 AM:

I wrote my comment before I saw Lono's above.

These soybeans will indeed be launched with our Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait which is the next generation of our original Roundup Ready product. It's already on the market this year. When we talked to farmers about introducing these soybean varieties, they asked us to do things - make sure they yield and make sure they are Roundup Ready so that they don't have to switch their chosen management practices.

For those that have questions on the safety of biotech and the regulatory approval process, they can visit our WEb site at www.monsanto.com/fortherecord.

Engineer-Poet said at October 28, 2009 9:39 AM:

I don't know what Monsanto is doing, but plants can be propagated by tissue culture much faster than growing a crop and waiting for seeds.  Also, the seed from one crop can be planted in the opposite hemisphere the next season and the first generations of seed plants can be grown in greenhouses and heavily fertilized to boost their yield.

I did a quick search and found a cite of 30 pods/plant, 2.2 beans/pod; seeding rates seem to be 50,000 to 150,000/acre.  If 90% grow to maturity, that's a multiplier of about 60 per generation (it would be considerably higher if a similar seed yield can be obtained with fewer plants/acre; 80% of the yield from 1/3 of the plants would be a multiplier of 144 per generation).  At 2 crops/year, that's a multiplier of ~13 million in 2 years (400 million for the hypothetical wider spacing).  The 13 million seeds will seed 260 acres and 400 million will seed 8000 acres at the lower density.  It will take 2-4 more generations to get enough seed to plant the US soy acreage, let alone the world.

It does look like 4 years is a reasonable time frame for this.  Monsanto must be a couple years into it already.

Fat Man said at October 28, 2009 11:13 AM:

"Their sloppy methods and egregious lack of concern for public health is legendary."

Only in your mind, Lono.

Cheryl said at October 30, 2009 1:50 AM:

It's really fascinating to know of this wonderful product but will the soy plant contain the same omega 3 fatty acids which are found in the fishes.

Steve said at October 31, 2009 5:13 PM:

There are two reasons this isn't as good as it sounds:

First, they won't contain the same n-3 fatty acids that have been proven to have health benefits. Fish contain lots of EPA (20:5) and DHA (22:6), whereas the Monsanto GM beans contain STA (18:4) - and our bodies are very poor at upconverting fatty acids, which is why ALA (18:3) doesn't have the same health benefits of EPA and DHA. STA is probably better than the corresponding n-6, but it is no substitute for fish oil.

Second, they are Roundup Ready, which encourages indiscriminate pesticide application.

For an example of how corporate-patented organisms affect family farmers, read http://www.percyschmeiser.com
(Summary: canola is wind-pollinated. Schmeiser's canola crop was contaminated by pollen from the Monsanto crops around his - at which point Monsanto sued HIM for not paying their technology license!)

Note that I am not anti-GMO! I'm just pointing out that these new soybeans won't be all that.

jasin said at November 7, 2009 11:01 AM:

You are right about the omega 3 in these soybeans not being epa or dha. Soybeans naturally contain Omega 3 & 6 to begin with anyways. http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2925/2

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