NEW YORK (AP) – Somewhere in the Midwest is a restaurant frying oil products made from redesigned soybeans. According to the company that makes the oil, it says it is the first commercial use of a revised food in the United States
. Calyxt said it can't reveal its first customer for competitive reasons, but CEO Jim Blome said the oil is "in use and is being eaten."
The Minnesota-based company hopes that the announcement will encourage the food industry's interest in the oil, as it says, has no trans fat and a longer shelf life than other soybean oils. Whether the demand is building is still to be seen, but the oil's transition to the food supply signals the genetic editing potential of changing food without the controversy of conventional GMOs or genetically modified organisms.
Among the other genetically engineered crops being investigated are fungi such as non-brown, more fiber wheat, better producing tomatoes, herbicide tolerant canola and rice that do not absorb soil contamination as it grows.
Unlike conventional GMOs, which are made by injecting DNA from other organisms, editing allows scientists to change properties by cutting or adding specific genes to a laboratory. Start-up, including Calyxt, says that their crops do not qualify as GMOs, because what they do can theoretically be achieved by traditional cross-testing.
So far, US regulators have agreed and said that several redeveloped crops in development do not require special supervision. It is partly why companies see great potential for revised crops.
"They have been spurred by regulatory decisions by this administration," Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in Public Interest, said a health safety group.
But because of the many ways in which gene editing can be used, Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Security said that regulators should consider the potential consequences of each new crop. He cited the example of producing redesigned to non brown.
"You designed it to sit longer. Is it a problem with it?" he said.
Already, most cereals and soy are grown in the US herbicide-tolerant GMOs. Only last week did the regulators remove a barrier to salmon that is genetically modified to grow faster. The fish is the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption in the United States
Although regulators say GMOs are safe, health and environmental concerns persist, and companies will soon reveal when products have "bioengineered" ingredients.
Calyxt says the oil does not qualify as a GMO. The oil is made from soybeans with two inactivated genes to produce more heart-healthy fats and no trans fat. The company says the oil also has a longer shelf life, which can reduce the cost of food builders or result in long-lasting products.
Soybean oils hit a hit when the regulators moved to ban oils with trans fat. Other trans fat-free soybean oils have become available over the years, but the industry has found it difficult to regain food producers who have already switched to different oils, said John Motter, former head of the United Soybean Board.
Calyxt said that the first customer is a company in the Midwest with several restaurant and food service locations, such as building cafeterias. It said that the customer uses it in dressings and sauces and for frying, but did not indicate whether the oil's benefits are communicated to eating places.
Calyxt is working on other genetically modified crops that it says are faster to develop than conventional GMOs, which require regulatory studies. But Tom Adams, chief executive of the biotechnology company Pairwise, said that auditing of revised foods could be stricter if public attitude changed.
"You should never think of regulation as settled," said Adams. Parvis cooperates with Monsanto parent Bayer on the development of genetically modified crops.
Views on gene editing also vary. National organic standard management states that food made with gene editing cannot qualify as organic. And last year, Europe's highest court claimed that re-edited foods should be subject to the same rules as conventional GMOs.
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