Editorial Roundup for Friday — December 09, 2005

• Monsanto: Heart healthy


Monsanto: Heart healthy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Dec. 3, 2005

Until now, the benefits of plant biotechnology have gone largely to the farmer, through crops that resist insects and weed-killing chemicals. Now, Monsanto is bringing more of those benefits directly to the consumer through healthier foods.

That ought to go a considerable way toward overcoming Europe’s exaggerated fear of genetically modified crops.

This year, farmers harvested their first crop of healthier soybeans. Monsanto’s Vistive beans contain less linoleic acid. Such beans don’t produce unhealthy transfats during processing.

Monsanto scientists think they are about five years away from producing soy genetically modified to contain more Omega 3 acids, which improve heart health and may have other health benefits. Also on the way are beans containing monounsaturated fats than boost the good HDL form of cholesterol.

Soy provides the oil most commonly used in processed foods. Many of us eat it without knowing it.

Scientists at Monsanto’s Creve Coeur headquarters are taking their growing knowledge of plant genetics along two different paths. One is non-controversial; they are using it to target improvements through faster and more effective crossbreeding.

Cross-breeding is a centuries-old practice, and raises no hackles among European food purists. Vistive was developed by cross breeding. But the other heart-healthy improvements involve direct genetic modifications performed in the lab.

Europe’s government barriers to GM food have been slowly easing. But GM food still faces strong consumer resistance in Europe and parts of Asia, and the Swiss recently voted to ban the growing of GM crops.

That resistance is based on fear more than fact. There is no evidence that eating GM food causes any harm to humans. Nor is there much reason to fear that GM crops, properly grown, will create “superweeds” or kill off useful insects.

Still, it’s easy to build public resistance against crops that make life easier for farmers. It’s hard to oppose crops that improve health.

Europe’s attitude is slowing the spread of a very useful technology, much of it developed in St. Louis. Nations elsewhere are wary of adopting GM crops for fear of harming their European markets.

The key to overcoming that resistance is to produce more healthy foods that consumers will demand, rather than fear. It seems that Monsanto is on the correct course.

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