US biotech firm Monsanto has said it is working to develop soybeans that will produce oil containing less trans fats and saturated fats.

The announcement follows the recent establishment of federal guidelines that will require food manufacturers to disclose the amount of trans fat contained in a product on food labels by 2006.

"Monsanto researchers are looking at ways to enhance soybeans so that they are healthier and, in turn, can reduce risks that lead to cardiovascular disease," said Monsanto's David Stark.

"It is our hope that these enhanced soybeans will provide economic and environmental benefits for growers, and healthier agricultural solutions for consumers who are concerned about their intake of unhealthy fats."

Specifically, Monsanto said it is applying conventional breeding techniques to produce a soybean low in linolenic acid. The process of hydrogenation reduces the amount of linolenic acid in soy oil and creates trans fatty acids. This new soybean would produce a soy oil that reduces the need for hydrogenation, and, in turn, could help reduce trans fats in many foods and even eliminate trans fats in some.

Trans fats, which are produced through the hydrogenation of oil to increase its shelf life or the solid nature of the fat, are believed to raise total blood cholesterol levels and levels of LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, and may contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease.