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Soybean board promotes healthier oil

DANIEL LOOKER 02/28/2013 @ 5:01pm Business Editor

The soybean checkoff and two major seed companies are fighting to regain the 28% share of the vegetable oil market that soybeans lost after the federal government required labeling of trans fatty acids in food in 2006.

"This problem for us, is huge," United Soybean Board chairman Jim Stillman, an Emmetsburg, Iowa farmer, said Thursday at the Commodity Classic in Kissimmee, Florida.

Before 2006, trans fatty acids were widely used in the food processing and baking industry as a shelf-stable alternative to saturated fats. But health researchers discovered that trans fats are an even more dangerous threat to heart health and the American Heart Association recommended getting less than 1% of your calories from trans fat after labeling was required.

Soybean oil, treated by a chemical process called hydrogenation, becomes a harder fat that resists heat and becoming rancid. Your mother or grandmother may have used the trans fat product, Crisco, for baking. But after commercial bakers had to label trans fats in their cookies, the industry soon switched to other fats with longer shelf life, such as palm oil and canola oil, that have no trans fats.

Since 2008, according to USB, the soybean industry has lost 4 billion pounds of soy-oil demand each year. That's the amount of oil from 360 million bushels of soybeans, Stillman said.

So this year, USB is encouraging farmers to plant soybean varieties with high levels of oleic acid, a natural fatty acid that makes soybean oil stable, as well as being lower in saturated fat. UKSB is partnering with the seed companies, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, to make the high oleic varieties available to farmers as quickly as possible. USB will also be working with chefs to demonstrate high oleic soy oil in cooking, as part of a campaign to convince food companies to use it.

Stillman said the checkoff's goal is to have 30% of U.S. soybean acres planted to highl-oleic varieties in ten years. In 2013, however, only a small percentage will be planted.

John Motter, a USB director and soybean farmer from Jenera, Ohio, said he will be planting all of his bean acres to high oleic varieties in 2013. He's been testing the varieties for three years and when he started, they were the second-best performing varieties on his farm.

Motter said food processors pay a 50 cent-a-bushel premium for high oleic soybeans. This summer, the acreage will likely be limited to areas of Ohio and Indiana where processors can segregate the soybeans. The high-oleic beans are genetically modified and not yet approved for use in the European Union, and must be segregated from commodity beans that could end up in the export market.

USB vice chairman, Jim Call of Madison, Minnesota, said his group is supporting efforts to get high oleic soybeans approved in the EU and other export markets, but he couldn't predict how long that process might take.

High oleic soybean oil also has potential for nonfood industrial uses, according to USB chairman Stillman.

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