CRISPR

First Gene-Edited Crop Coming to a Store Near You

Great news for consumers and farmers.

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CalytxSoybeans
Calyxt

Healthier oil from gene-edited soybeans similar in composition to olive oil is now being used to fry foods and as an ingredient in salad dressings. To produce Calyno oil, the biotech company Calyxt gene-edited soybeans to turn off two genes involved with fatty-acid synthesis. In the past, hydrogenating soy oil to give it a longer shelf life produced unhealthy trans fats. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods. Calyno oil contains no trans fats while having up to three times the fry life and extended shelf life of regular soy oil.

Unlike traditional versions of genetically engineered crops, gene-editing does not involve adding genes from other organisms to endow crops with beneficial characteristics such as disease, pest, and herbicide resistance. Gene-editing creates changes that are essentially equivalent to natural mutations.

Sadly, the usual environmental activist groups want to stymie this advance in crop biotechnology. "The products of all techniques of genetic engineering, including gene editing, should be regulated using the Precautionary Principle* to protect human health and the environment," asserts a Friends of the Earth (FOE) report deprecative of gene-editing. "All genetic engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government regulatory oversight of genetic engineering and GMOs." Vexingly, the European Union has adopted the FOE's position and has decided to impose the same cumbersome regulations for genetically modified crops on gene-edited crops.

Calyxt has been able to get its soy oil so quickly to market because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has sensibly decided that it will not regulate gene-edited crops. This is great news for consumers and farmers since developing and marketing a traditional genetically modified crop typically costs $150 million. The costs of developing new crops via gene-editing will likely be 90 percent lower. And instead of taking 12 years to move from development to commercialization, a gene-edited crop can get to market in just five years.

Calyxt has several other gene-edited crop varieties in its research and development pipeline including wheat that resists powdery mildew and contains three times more fiber, potatoes that resist blight, drought-tolerant soybeans, and reduced-lignin alfalfa.

John Dombrosky, CEO of venture capital consortium AgTech Accelerator told Bloomberg that gene-editing "will be set free to do tremendous things across the ag continuum, and the promise is just gigantic. We'll be able to fine-tune food for amazing health and nutrition benefits."

Calyxt's soy oil is just the first of many new improved crops that will soon be in your local grocery store.

*Precautionary principle: Never do anything for the first time.

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  1. Vexingly, the European Union has adopted the FOE’s position and has decided to impose the same cumbersome regulations for genetically modified crops on gene-edited crops.

    Vexing seems like the wrong word. It’s totally predictable and, unlike places like Myanmar, doesn’t exactly pose a threat to anyone’s survival. It’s only vexing in that they chose the option that you/we didn’t like and, if our method is as clearly superior as we believe it to be, our adoption of it will be it’s own reward. I suppose it’s vexing if the EU turns into a backwater shithole without enough member states having seceded, but we’re a long ways off on that and genetically modified soybean oil is hardly a significant step.

    1. Vexingly, the European Union has adopted the FOE’s position

      of always wanting to be the first to comment?

    2. m: Vexing: annoying, worrying, or causing problems. For example, the idiotic EU regs will restrict exports of the new American gene-edited crops to that market. That is annoying and does cause problems.

      1. That is annoying and does cause problems.

        Got a lot of modified soy you need to export to Germany Ron? You and I have very different expectations of Europe. I’d rather have the EU keep its anti-gene editing mandate and all its member states secede rather than give up its mandate and remain a unified economic and regulatory bloc. However, I can certainly see how someone who puts science ahead of libertarianism would differ on the priorities or order of operations.

  2. If you have to have a food allergy, legumes is the worst–and that makes soy and soybean oil the worst of the worst. Last time I looked, there wasn’t a single item of bread I could eat in the whole damn grocery.

    I think the issue is that because soy meal is used for cheap animal feed, the oil they press off is just icing on the profit cake–so it’s priced less than other oils. They used to burn off natural gas when they were drilling for oil, and they used to just chuck soybean oil. (Soy sauce is fermented, which is a different process than making soybean oil).

    Because GMO soy is so unusual, the only mass market restaurants I can eat at are places that are GMO free–GMO free usually translates into not using soy. Sometimes I’ll see “organic soybean oil” listed, which is ridiculous. No, “organic” doesn’t make something better for your or safer. Moreover, the awful they use to extract soybean oil and make it edible for humans defeats whatever herbicide and pesticide they avoided using while it was growing. Either “organic” is a meaningless word or “organic soybean oil” is an oxymoron.

    1. If you have to have a food allergy, legumes is the worst–and that makes soy and soybean oil the worst of the worst. Last time I looked, there wasn’t a single item of bread I could eat in the whole damn grocery.

      I’d recommend talking to your allergist about this but, odds are, they subscribe to the same superstitions. You can consume whole legumes without anaphylaxis, right? Because normally allergies are a response to proteins but soybean oil contains few proteins. It’s possible you have some manner of intolerance but, on top of the fact that the oil contains mostly proteins, most breads only use 1-2% oil by weight. Moreover, the proteins usually have the shit baked out of them at 450 degrees for a half hour. I’d be willing to bet that the amount of allergens in any given loaf of bread is comparable to the number of outright toxins like aflatoxin or acrylamides found in other foods.

      I’m not saying you definitively don’t have an allergy or that you can’t eat bread but that your motivations for complaining don’t add up and you sound a little like one of the “I don’t eat any foods that contain chemicals.” crakpots.

      1. I’m not against deriding hyper-processed nutrient supplements as sub- or non- food, just that that in and of itself can be an apt criticism. No need to make up stuff like “I’m allergic to glutamine.” or “I’m cellulose intolerant.”

      2. I’m aware that some food sensitivities aren’t true allergies and different things can provoke the same kinds of reactions.I’ve heard all the stuff about how the process of making soybean oil supposedly take the allergens down to a level so low that it doesn’t effect most people with allergies. I’m also aware that I consistently have the same reaction to peanuts, hummus (garbanzo beans), peas, and all soy products–including soybean oil. They’re all legumes–all those molecules are close enough to each other to provoke the same reaction. It is what it is. If there’s some explanation for why some people with allergies don’t react to soybean oil even if they’re allergic to soy, it’s further confounded by the fact that I do have reactions every time I eat anything with soybean oil.

        I don’t have any reactions when I avoid legumes entirely. Whatever the explanation is, the solution remains the same.

        1. If there’s some explanation for why some people with allergies don’t react to soybean oil even if they’re allergic to soy, it’s further confounded by the fact that I do have reactions every time I eat anything with soybean oil.

          Kinda the opposite. *All* humans have to have soy “processed” at some level in order to digest it, protein, oil, or otherwise. Raw soy isn’t broadly edible to humans.

          I admit to being surprised at the outright ubiquity of soybean oil in your grocer’s bread production. I knew it (and canola) to be somewhat common. We usually make our own bread at home and when we don’t, we purchase the less processed (more artisanal?) loaves from our local chain grocer. I’m not sure that they aren’t GMO (I’m pretty sure they’re not soy/legume-free as we prefer multi-grain), but I know they don’t specifically use oil, let alone soybean oil.

          Mainly, the “not a single item of bread I could eat in the whole damn grocery” complaint sounded a bit food desert-y, IMO. Especially since the traditionally requisite ingredients for (leavened) bread are flour, water, salt, and yeast. Not that you *must* eat bread just, again, a seeming disconnect between biological/psychological motivation and outward animus.

          1. I wasn’t trying to be food deserty, but the fact is that the groceries I go to have few options in the bread aisle without soy. Check your grocery the next time you’re there!

            Vons had none. You can go through every single bread item on the shelf, and there was absolutely nothing that didn’t contain soy. Sometimes, I can get away with finding sourdough or bagels at Albertsons without soy–but not at Vons.

            It’s astounding how much soybean oil is going into baked goods. Like I said, I think that’s all about soybean oil being on top of the profits they make from selling soybean meal as animal feed. You want animal feed to be as cheap as it can get, and getting the same profits out of soybean oil probably has a lower cost associated with it than other oils for that reason.

            I wouldn’t say that’s the only reason. I’m still not sure why Cocal Cola uses corn syrup in the U.S., when in Mexico, where the consumer price is lower, they still spring for real sugar. The sugar Coke tastes much better. Maybe selling corn water sounds better from a marketing standpoint than selling sugar water. But then Coke may be doing that for political reasons–and there may be some of that going on with soybean oil, as well. I understand corn and soy are powerful ag lobbies in the farm state heavy Senate. Wouldn’t surprise me if there were some rent seeking going on there.

            I can go to a health food store or Whole Foods and find brioche bread that doesn’t have soy.

            1. Corn lobbyist are not as active in Mexico as they are in the US.

    2. 1. Mad is right that you really need to talk to your allergist. Soy allergies are not the same as allergies to other legumes. My son, for example, is allergic to soy and lentils but not peas or any of the others in the legume family. (I have different allergies that include tree nuts but not legumes.)

      2. Mad is also right that our allergies are to the proteins – and unless you go for ‘cold pressed’ oils, there are vanishingly few proteins in the oil. You might be so sensitive that even those minuscule traces will trigger your allergies but it’s highly unlikely. But your allergist can specifically test for that if you’re willing to go through the sensitivity tests.

      3. I question your claim of being unable to find non-soy-containing bread at the grocery. I have no trouble at all finding non-soy breads for my son at any of the grocers in my area. (When he was young and before we were willing to put him through the sensitivity tests, we had to go with complete abstinence, too.) I did have to check the labels because one or two at any given store will contain soy but that generally leaves 9 or 10 brands that don’t.

      1. 1 & 2) Should I pretend my allergic reactions aren’t happening just prove your theory right?

        3) Find the name brand. Post it right here in this thread. Show me a national brand at a regular grocery in SoCal that doesn’t contain soy.

        Here are some examples I just looked up to get you started:

        Oroweat 100% whole wheat: soybean oil
        Thomas’ English muffins: soybean oil
        Ball Park hot dog rolls: soybean oil
        Pepperridge Farm Farmhouse Sourdough: soybean oil
        King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls: soy flour
        Wonder Bread: soybean oil and soy flour

  3. *Precautionary principle: Never do anything for the first time.

    I think that the Precautionary principle should never-ever be first-time-deployed in YOUR (or my) immediate location! We never know WHAT bad things might happen, the first time that the precautionary principle is deployed or obeyed where YOU (or I) live!

  4. “The products of all techniques of genetic engineering, including gene editing, should be regulated using the Precautionary Principle* to protect human health and the environment,” asserts a Friends of the Earth (FOE) report deprecative of gene-editing.

    I agree. If God wanted this kind of thing He would have made evolution a real thing instead of something godless school boards made up to indoctrinate our children.

    1. Rev, is that you?

    2. Two thumbs up. If I had more than two thumbs I’d “up vote you” more! God only gave me two.

  5. The first? Not remotely!

    My cousin still feels guilty about the part he played in genetically engineering tomatoes to turn red while still unripe. And that’s only one example of a gene edited crop hitting our shelves. (In this case, and bouncing instead of going splat.)

    1. The first? Not remotely!

      Silenced vs. added or enhanced. Subtle but different. Agreed that there is a bit of ‘historic firstism’ going on.

  6. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods.

    I’m so old I can remember when the Feds were encouraging the use of partially hydrogenated oil, but I guess the science wasn’t settled in those days.

  7. Why can’t you godless hacks just leave me to eat my unhealthy garbage food? Why you always gotta be trying to healthify every damn thing?

  8. I can’t wait to try this oil!

    Where can I get it?

  9. The so-called “Precautionary Principle” is an example of cognitive bias in risk evaluation – specifically, it panders to the human tendencies to underweight risks of the status quo while overweighting novel risks. In its strong form, the “Precautionary Principle” is a bankrupt philosophy that paralyzes all innovation, perpetuating all the known evils of the present in order to avoid speculative risks of the future. It has no value whatsoever as a guide to behavior or decision-making.

  10. Well, Ronald Bailey may see this as “great news” but he might be the only one. I’m sorry but I go to great lengths to secure my food (meat, milk, eggs, veggies and fruits, just so you know) from local, non-GMO growers, farmers and ranchers. I do not want gene edited foods. Ronald can have my share, I’ll gladly let him have it.

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