Ask U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist Kristin Bilyeu and she’ll tell you that not only will high-oleic soybeans help provide a healthier alternative for consumers, they also will help increase demand for U.S. soybean oil.

Ultimately, the high-oleic soybean varieties could help the U.S. soybean industry maintain and even regain lost edible oil market share.

Bilyeu and University of Missouri (MU) professor Grover Shannon, lead a project that’s partially funded by the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff that discovered two high-oleic soybean genes. The oil from high-oleic soybeans is healthier than partially hydrogenated vegetable oils because it requires no hydrogenation, a process that leads to trans fats. High-oleic oil also contains about 25 percent less saturated fat than soybean oil processed from commodity U.S. soybeans and is healthier than high-stability fats and oils, such as palm, that contain high levels of saturated fats.

“If we can improve the health profile of a food ingredient without people having to make any changes in their lives, we can potentially improve the health of all consumers,” said Bilyeu, a USDA molecular biologist and adjunct professor of plant sciences at MU.

“High-oleic soybean oil will be in high demand from the food industry. I think it will be an obvious choice for food companies. It has no negative attributes.”

Soybean checkoff farmer-leaders serve on the board of directors for QUALISOY, an organization that helps identify and capitalize on new soybean oil opportunities to increase profit potential for U.S. soybean farmers. Two QUALISOY partners continue to develop new higholeic U.S. soybean varieties. Pioneer’s Plenish high-oleic soybeans may be grown under contract in the U.S. in 2011, with commercialization anticipated in 2012 upon full regulatory approval and field testing. And Monsanto could have Vistive Gold varieties available for planting in 2013 pending regulatory approvals.

Regain lost markets

High-oleic varieties could help the U.S. soybean industry regain most of the oil market share it lost when some food companies replaced hydrogenated soybean oil as an ingredient in order to reduce trans fats in their products. Ironically, some companies replaced trans fats with some form of saturated fat, such as palmitic acid, in their product reformulations. Palmitic acid and some other saturated fats have been linked to coronary heart disease.

“This high oleic trait is needed in the food industry,” said Jason Bean, chair of USB’s production research program and a soybean farmer from Holcomb, Mo. “Farmers take a lot of pride in providing an abundance of healthy, nutritious food. With high-oleic soybean oil, we’re helping the food industry meet consumer demand for healthier oil.”

According to research funded by the checkoff and QUALISOY, U.S. soybean oil’s share of the edible fats and oils market peaked at 80 percent, or more than 17.4 billion pounds, just before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food labels to include trans-fat content in 2006. By 2009, that market share had dropped to 65 percent, a loss of some 3.4 billion pounds of edible oil. QUALISOY estimates an additional 2 billion pounds of hydrogenated soybean oil face immediate threats from non-soy alternatives.

The soybean checkoff began working on trans-fat alternatives in edible oil even before the FDA’s trans-fat labeling requirement went into effect. Low-linolenic soybean varieties, along with biodiesel demand for soybean oil, served to mask this market share loss. However, estimates say the food industry’s movement away from trans fat led to a 28-cent decrease in the per-bushel price of soybeans by 2009. This drop cost U.S. soybean farmers at least $2.3 billion between 2005 and 2009.

USB is made up of 69 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.

For more information on the United Soybean Board, visit us at http://www.unitedsoybean.org.