Monsanto developing non-GMO soybeans for food use

Monsanto Company, developer of genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans that account for more than 90% of US soybean acres, plans to introduce non-genetically engineered soybeans for food use.

According to Monsanto project leader Neal Bringe, Monsanto has been exploring the potential to improve the protein composition of soybeans for food for years because of the rapid growth in soyfoods and interest from food companies.

Using advanced, conventional breeding methods, Bringe says Monsanto developed soybean varieties that have better properties related to taste and health. They tested soybeans to identify varieties that had better solubility related to maintaining the smooth “mouth-feel” of soymilk. Monsanto then tested those lines to identify ones that best inhibited fat accumulation in fat cells after digestion. The aim being to produce soyfood products that help people reduce body fat while maintaining muscle mass. The soybean lines that best expressed the desired traits of solubility, bioactivity related to controlling body fat, and low flavor-producing properties are the ones Monsanto calls Sovera soybeans.

Bringe says the first small-scale commercial production of Sovera soybeans will be done after 2010.

“We are in discussions with potential commercial partners who are excited about the potential for a product like Sovera soybeans,” Bringe says.

Sovera soybeans will be identity preserved to ensure they meet non-GMO and other specifications that processors demand. Though Bringe says GM traits such as Roundup Ready 2 Yield could be added if a customer wanted it.

Suspicion, acceptance greet Monsanto’s non-GMO plans
The entrance of Monsanto, the leading developer of genetically engineered crops, into the market for non-GMO crops and foods is surprising to say the least. The reaction from suppliers of non-GMO grains and oilseeds ranged from skepticism and disbelief to a surprising welcoming attitude. Here are some reactions:

“I think they should not introduce non-GMO soybeans; they are involved in too many areas already and will only want more control.”
Bob Ridzon, owner, Ridzon Farms, New Waterford, OH

“I don’t think I would chance contamination problems of buying seed from them.”
Lon Baldus, owner, Meadowland Seed, Grand Meadow, MN

“What will be gained if Monsanto produces non-GMO soybeans for food use and continues producing GM soy for making enormous volume of soy meal for feed, soy oil, and lecithin for food? Maybe a greenwash of their image for consumers who do not know better.”
Augusto Freire, CEO, Cert ID Brazil, Porto Alegre-RS, Brazil

“It’s a little surprising because they are so pro-GMO, but I could see them looking at the (non-GMO) market. They wouldn’t be good managers if they didn’t look at it.
Craig Tomera, production agronomist, Northland Organic Foods, St. Paul, MN

“It does not surprise me to see Monsanto entering the food soybean market… I think Monsanto has seen the re-birth of this market and would like to tap into it… Within several more years Monsanto will see their GMO technology market share decline. They are thinking of future strategy so as to not lose their position. Monsanto has all of the resources to develop food quality soybeans.”
Patrick Marc Ham, director of international development, Semences Prograin, St. Césaire, Canada

“We would welcome Monsanto being involved in developing some new non-GMO soybean food varieties, and the sooner the better. The biggest problem we have for non-GMO food-grade soybeans is that there are not many new varieties being developed. If they can develop something with comparable yields to recent GMO varieties, and can incorporate some of the quality and size traits we are looking for in food-grade soybeans, farmers and food manufacturers are going to love it as well.”
Chip Daniels, who runs the specialty grain business at Grain Millers, Eden Prairie, MN

“I welcome anyone providing non-GMO soy varieties to farmers. I would even welcome Monsanto starting an organic farm. These are activities that merit support.”
Lynn Clarkson, president, Clarkson Grain, Cerro Gordo, IL

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report May 2009