Until the European Union approves a new genetically engineered crop called Plenish, DuPont is restricting the sale and cultivation of the soy seeds in the U.S. to guarantee that no shipments to Europe are accidentally contaminated.
A record 17.3 million farmers worldwide grew 420 million acres of biotech crops in 2012, up 6 percent from 2011, according to an annual survey by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Developing countries, including Brazil, Argentina, China and India, for the first time grew more of the crops than the United States and other industrial countries, 52 percent versus 48 percent. Plantings in Brazil jumped 21 percent, to more than 90 million acres, second only to the United States at 172 million.
U.S. farmers are eager to see new soybean varieties succeed, because soybean oil has been fast losing market share to other products such as imported palm oil since the Food and Drug Administration decided a decade ago to require food manufacturers to start listing trans fat content on product labels. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the source of the trans fats, had long been favored by fast-food restaurants and companies that make cookies, pastries and baked goods. In fryers, the oil would last longer without going rancid than alternative products.
Oil from the gene-altered soybean Plenish, as well as from the Monsanto version, which are relatively high in oleic fatty acid, the main fatty acid found in olive oil, mimic key cooking characteristics of partially hydrogenated oil without the trans fats, said Russ Sanders, director of food and industry markets for DuPont Pioneer.
Imported palm oil has replaced soybean oil in many products, including cookies, and “has really filled the gap when we went into the trans fat issue,” said South Dakota farmer Lewis Bainbridge, a director of the United Soybean Board, the industry’s promotional arm. “We’re hopeful that with a home-grown product, which is what we’re trying to achieve here, that we can be competitive here.”
The industry’s goal is to grow 18 million acres of the new high-oleic varieties by 2023, or about 20 to 25 percent of total soybean acreage, he said. For now, the main impediment to expansion isn’t the EU approval delay so much as the amount of time it takes to breed the trait into the highest-yielding varieties for each region of the country, he said.
Just 100,000 acres of DuPont’s high-oleic soybeans are being grown this year, Sanders said. Until the EU gives its OK to the new soybean, DuPont’s crop is being grown only under contract between farmers and four major processors, including Cargill Inc. and Bunge Ltd. The contracts ensure the crop is stored and trucked under strict requirements so it doesn’t get mixed with other soybeans.
“We’re moving forward cautiously because we want to make sure we protect the integrity of the supply chain,” Sanders said.