The United Soybean Board (USB) today announced it has approved funding for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to accelerate development of a soybean variety that will produce a healthier soybean oil. The new oil, which will be ready for food companies to test within the next two years, will be lower in saturated fat and will reduce or eliminate the need for hydrogenation in many applications. This project enables USB to work with ARS to achieve their goals of creating soybean oil with enhanced compositional traits.

"This project, which is part of USB's Better Bean Initiative, demonstrates our commitment to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers," stated Jay Franklin, a soybean producer from Oklahoma and Chair of USB's Production Committee. "USB has solicited and received food industry feedback that shows strong support for a low saturated fat and low linolenic acid soybean oil that can be used in a variety of applications. This oil will allow our industry partners to produce healthier products that will directly benefit consumers as well."

In fiscal year 2000, USB provided $3 million in funding for ARS research, and USB's approval of this new proposal will allow ARS to produce a sufficient supply of soybean seed for testing.

"USB's funding will enable us to get this low-sat/low-lin oil into the hands of processors and food companies much sooner," said lead ARS researcher Richard Wilson. "Whatever the food companies tell us will direct our ongoing work. If they like the material the way it is, we can proceed. If they think we should make some changes, we can do that now rather than waiting years to have that input," Wilson stated, referring to the steps his team will take once the oil is available to the food processors for testing.

The ideal oil traits identified by the food industry included a higher oleic acid content, lower linolenic acid and lower saturated fat. Wilson and his team at ARS have identified germplasm that meets two of the three target traits, low saturated fat and low linolenic acid, and will utilize the USB funding to develop a low-sat/low-lin oil. USB sees this development as the first step in the ongoing process of creating enhanced varieties that better meet the needs of food companies.

ARS expects production of approximately 5,000 bushels of soybean seed exhibiting the low-saturated fat and low-linolenic traits to be processed into nearly 5,000 gallons of enhanced oil by 2002. Oil processing companies selected to test the low-sat/low-lin oil will be identified within this time frame, as will the methods in which the oil will be tested. Processors and food companies will assess the oil's functionality, stability and flavor to ensure it meets their needs. The Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils (ISEO) has strongly endorsed the development of the low-sat/low-lin oil and will assist ARS in developing the testing methods and identifying potential users of the enhanced oil. "ISEO believes that this new soybean oil holds excellent potential for meeting the flexibility needs of the edible oils processing industry and its food industry customers," said ISEO President Robert Reeves.

The United Soybean Board is a farmer-led organization representing over 600,000 American soybean farmers. USB invests checkoff dollars in more than 350 marketing and research projects annually. The ARS, one of the Research, Education and Economics (REE) agencies, is the main in-house research arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).