Monsanto just announced a deal with DSM Nutritional Products to sell a new type of genetically engineered (GE) soybean: one with supposed nutritional benefits. The majority of Monsanto's GE crops are engineered to resist Monsanto's herbicide, Roundup, or to produce their own pesticide, Bt. Once farmers harvest them, they are mixed together with non-GE crops and sold to consumers without labels. This new soybean, called the SDA Omega-3 soybean, will be different.
The SDA Omega-3 soybean will be grown, harvested, and processed separately from "commodity" soybeans. Farmers call these "Identity Preserved" soybeans, because everyone from the farmer to the ultimate consumer will know that they came from Monsanto's new seeds.
This soybean is a first for Monsanto. Its previous genetically engineered seeds all provide supposed benefits only for farmers. For example, cotton that produces its own pesticide or soybeans that do not die if they are sprayed with Monsanto's herbicide. Consumers never know if or when they eat these other genetically engineered foods, because they are not labeled.
But the new SDA Omega-3 soybean claims to provide health benefits to consumers. And if you eat it, you will know ... because they'll likely want to charge you extra for it.
Monsanto's New Strange Bedfellow
To process and sell the new SDA omega-3 soybean, Monsanto just announced a deal with DSM Nutritionals, a corporation you've likely never heard of. Odds are, however, that you've eaten some of their products. They make a trove of hidden ingredients found in processed foods, from vitamins to artificial flavoring. They even make resins used to line the cans food comes in, ink used on food packaging, and the feed additive given to farmed salmon to make their flesh look pink.
This is not DSM's first foray into omega-3 land either. Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fat that humans need to survive. We use them in our brains, our eyes, and our cell membranes. When we eat too few omega-3s -- and too much of another type of fat called omega-6s -- we face devastating health consequences, like heart disease. So, like many food processors, DSM has lined up to deliver omega-3s to us in supplement capsules, processed foods, and even infant formula.
Nowadays, omega-3s are marketed as a food additive or nutritional supplement. You can take fish oil capsules or flax seed oil to supplement omega-3 in your diet, or you can try some of DSM's products, like life'sDHA. As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, life'sDHA has sparked controversy -- particularly due to its inclusion in certified organic infant formula -- because it is produced from algae with genetic mutations induced by radiation and/or harsh chemicals, and it is extracted from the algae using a toxic solvent.
The Hidden Truth About Omega-3s
Despite the marketing of omega-3s as supplements or food additives (i.e. eggs, butter, oil, and even chocolate peanut butter bars "with omega-3s!"), they are simply a nutrient that most animals on this planet, humans included, consume in the course of their normal diets.
Our problem -- and the reason why so many products in the supermarkets advertise omega-3s -- is that we've flooded our diets with omega-6s. Inside our bodies, these two types of fats "compete" for the same enzymes. We need about a 4:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, or four times as many omega-6s as omega-3s. But the ratio of these fats in the average American diet is closer to 10:1, or worse.
In general, omega-6s are found in seeds and seed oils, whereas omega-3s are found in fish and green plants. Also, omega-6s are more shelf-stable, whereas omega-3s are rather perishable. In our nation of processed foods with nearly infinite shelf lives, omega-6s rule the day.
Monsanto: We'll Sell You The Problem and Sell You The Solution
To eat these two types of fats in the right ratio, we can either eat more omega-3s or eat fewer omega-6s. Companies like DSM and Monsanto want us to do the former -- so we buy their high omega-3 products (and pay top dollar for them, too!). But scientists recommend going by the other route, reducing our omega-6 consumption. One healthy way to do this is by using monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil.
Author Susan Allport, who wrote The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed From the Western Diet and What We Can Do To Replace Them, agrees. "The best way to up the omega-3s in one's tissues is simply to reduce one's intake of omega-6s," she says. "Monsanto will try to persuade us that we can get around this elephant in the room (the large amount of omega-6s in the food supply) with their new soybean but it certainly won't be any more effective than the advice to eat more fish has been."
However, Monsanto does not want us to stop eating unhealthy levels of omega-6s, because their patented genes are in most of the soybeans grown in the U.S. And soybean oil is our number one source of omega-6s. (Soybean oil is often sold labeled simply as "vegetable oil.")
So instead of cutting into their sales by switching to a healthier fat, they'd prefer to keep making you unhealthy with soybean oil. But they are willing to offer you this "band aid" fix of a high omega-3 soybean that they anticipate will be grown on less than five percent of the nation's soybean acres. Oh, and you'll probably have to pay extra to get it, too.
Where To Find Monsanto/DSM's New Soybean
You won't find the new omega-3 soybean at your supermarket yet, but it's on its way. The government approved it for commercial sales last June. Monsanto anticipates that it will be used in products like margarine, mayonnaise, shortening, salad dressings, and ready-to-eat foods.
To create it, Monsanto inserted genes from a primrose and a red bread mold into the DNA of a soybean. The new genes convert some of the fat in the soybean's oil into an omega-3 called SDA that is unusual to find in plants. Most plants that contain SDA are not common foods. However, if you'd like to eat a non-genetically engineered superfood that is rich in omega-3s, including SDA, you can eat hemp seed.