US biotechnology giant Monsanto has announced the development and commercialisation of new, low-linolenic soybeans produced through conventional breeding that will reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids (trans fats) in processed soybean oil.

Monsanto said the new Vistive soybeans, which will have the Roundup Ready trait, contain less than 3% linolenic acid, compared to 8% for traditional soybeans, resulting in a more stable soybean oil, with a better flavour profile, and less need for hydrogenation. Because soybeans with less linolenic acid reduce or eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation, trans fats in processed soybean oil can be reduced or eliminated.

Trans fats are created in the partial hydrogenation process, which is used to increase shelf life and flavour stability in fried foods, baked goods, snack products and other processed foods. Trans fats are linked to heart disease, because they lower HDL (good) cholesterol while raising LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Kerry Preete, Monsanto's vice president of US crop production, said the US Food and Drug Administration's mandate to include trans fat labelling on food products from 1 January 2006, is a major factor driving the demand for low-linolenic soybean oil.