Better cooking oil

Soybeans are a source of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, similar to the types of oils found in margarine. Some GM soy varieties contain increased amounts of oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid). These soy varieties were created by adding extra copies of a ‘desaturase’ gene that occurs naturally in soy plants.

The extra desaturase genes result in soy beans with a higher percentage of oleic acid than unmodified soybeans. The extra genes work by silencing an existing gene, reducing the conversion of mono-unsaturated oleic acid to polyunsaturated oils.

After assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), health ministers approved the sale of foods containing specific varieties of GM soy containing an altered balance of oils. This type of soybean was first produced in the USA in 1996.

High oleic soy oils do not smoke when they are heated to high temperatures, and are better than unmodified soy for re-frying, and during refining and storage. In addition, increasing the amount of oleic acid in soy removes the need to hydrogenate (add hydrogen to) the soy during processing. The hydrogenation process creates unhealthy trans-fatty acids.

The change in the balance of the oils in the modified soybeans does not have any significant impact on the nutritional value of the oil. But if the improved cooking properties means that soy oil replaced other (saturated) frying fats, this would contribute to improved nutrition.

Some fried foods have cancer-causing agents that can damage DNA by causing mutations. Acrylamides are formed by exposing high-carbohydrate foods to high temperatures in baking and frying; the chemicals can cause cancer in laboratory animals, but have never been linked to human cancer.