GM soybeans increasingly used for food

Non-GMO soybeans have traditionally been used to make soyfood products such as tofu, miso, and soymilk, while GM soybeans have been used for animal feed or processed into oil and soybean meal. But with higher food prices worldwide and fewer non-GMO soybean varieties available, more food manufacturers in Asia and even the United States are using GM soybeans to make soyfoods.

Syngenta Seeds Canada plans to increase production of genetically modified Roundup Ready clear hilum soybean seed in 2009, based on increasing acceptance of the GM soybeans for food use in Asian nations, including Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

Gary Bowman of Syngenta’s technology and agronomy services department says buyers in those countries want a high-protein soybean for soyfood products such as soymilk and miso, and they don’t mind that the soybean is GM.

“They can’t afford to pay premiums for non-GMO, so they are looking at GM varieties for food use,” Bowman says. “Multiplication of these (GM) varieties allows us to serve those markets.”

James Orf, professor in department of agronomy and plant genetics, University of Minnesota, says he visited Taiwan last fall and learned that clear hilum GM soybeans are being used for tofu production. “Their concern about GMOs is not as great as Japan,” Orf says.

Clear hilum soybeans, which are high in protein, are grown primarily to make soymilk and tofu. Most clear hilum varieties are non-GMO, though GM Roundup Ready varieties have been available for several years.

“Another way for Monsanto to control food markets”
Bowman says Syngenta plans to introduce three new GM hilum varieties, one white and two colored, for food use. The new varieties are high in protein and designed for easy processing and good taste.

Syngenta is introducing the new GM varieties based on demand from Asian buyers and from farmers who want to grow them.

Bowman says some soyfood manufacturers in the United States are also buying GM soybeans to make soyfoods. “The US market has no opposition (to GMO),” Bowman says.

John Diehl, owner of Michigan-based DF Seeds, also sees growing demand for GM soybeans for food use. Diehl says he has been approached by major customers to develop a Roundup Ready, clear hilum soybean for food.
High food prices and the resulting world food crisis are combining to loosen restrictions on using GM soy for food. “When people run out of food, they become less picky about what they eat,” Diehl says.

Tim Daley, a representative with Stonebridge, Ltd., an Iowa-based supplier of non-GMO and organic soybeans, also sees the world food crisis as a factor, and says, “This is just another way for Monsanto to control the industrial food markets.”

A lack of supply of non-GMO soybeans and high premium prices for non-GMO are also factors contributing to the trend toward GM for food use. “There is an inability to fill the marketplace with non-GMO beans, and buyers are looking for cheaper alternatives,” Diehl says.

Non-GMO market is at-risk
Though a major GM seed producer, Syngenta has a strong breeding program for non-GMO soybeans, says company representative Don McClure. “It is a good market for us, and one we want to stay in.”

While other Asian nations are now accepting GM soybeans for food, Japan continues to demand non-GMO. McClure says it is because Japan is willing to pay the higher premiums for non-GMO beans.

Still, he says the non-GMO market is at risk. “If growers can’t make money growing non-GMO, or if Japanese buyers won’t pay the premiums, the market will fall by the wayside,” McClure says. “The non-GMO market will stay around as long as someone wants to pay.”

Japan recently purchased GM corn from the US for food use, indicating a lack of supply of non-GMO corn.

McClure and Diehl both say Japan follows Europe’s lead on the GMO issue. Europe is known for its opposition to GM foods. Europe buys most of its soybeans for feed; soyfood products are not as popular there as in Japan and other Asian markets.

In the long-term, McClure sees the food-grade soybean market splitting in two. “There will be the lower price, food-grade type, which may or may not be GMO, and the higher price non-GMO market.

Daley says, “It looks like the market is gearing up for a change.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report June 2008.