A campaign by the soybean checkoff to champion the planting, use and conversion to high oleic soybeans may have gotten a boost Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow food processors to make some “qualified” health claims about high oleic oils.
FDA came out with new guidelines for health claims involving edible oils with high oleic acids, allowing food companies to state foods with high oleic oils can say there is “supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence” that such oils “may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
It’s the kind of claim that can drive health-conscious consumers, food companies and restaurant chefs to advocate for using a particular oil, much like celebrity chef Rachael Ray touts extra-virgin olive oil on a daily basis.
High oleic oils are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. The high levels of monounsaturated fat have been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often dubbed as the “bad cholesterol.”
The FDA’s qualified claim on the health of high oleic oils comes as the United Soybean Board is in the middle of a $60 million campaign to boost crop production and food-service industry use of soybean varieties with higher oleic content and lower saturated fats.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the new “qualified health claim” for high oleic oilseeds, stating he is committed to “finding new ways to reduce the burden of chronic disease through improved nutrition.”
FDA’s announcement Monday was in response to a petition originally filed in 2016 by Corbion Biotech Inc., asking to use a health claim showing lower risks of coronary heart disease by using oils with at least 20 grams of oleic acid per serving to replace a similar amount of saturated fats. The petition cited 69 publications to back the claim.
FDA came back with a qualified health claim that food companies can use on labels stating: “Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” The claim will also need to make it clear that, to achieve this benefit, these oils “should replace fats and oils higher in saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” And the edible oils must contain at least 70% oleic acid to make the claim.
Soybeans Not Included
Among companies praising FDA’s decision was Cargill Inc., which issued a statement that the company was pleased FDA had determined “there is credible evidence to support a qualified health claim” for high oleic oils. Cargill sees opportunities in its canola business as the company rolled out a canola oil last year it states has the lowest saturated fat and highest oleic content available on the market globally.
“We believe the FDA’s approval of a qualified health claim for high oleic oils is intended to give consumers more information by which to make informed nutritional choice, which is a development we welcome as an industry leader in this space,” Cargill stated.
FDA specifically stated edible oils involved include “high oleic sunflower oil, high oleic safflower oil, high oleic canola oil, olive oil and high oleic algal oil.”
That raised a question about why high oleic soybeans weren’t on the list.
Through queries Monday by DTN/The Progressive Farmer, an FDA spokeswoman commented that unmodified soybean oil does not meet the bar by containing at least 70% oleic acid per serving to be eligible for the qualified health claim. Soybean oil would have to show it can meet the 70% standard.
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“If a soybean oil has been modified to increase the oleic acid content, it can use the claim only if it contains at least 70% oleic acid per serving,” the FDA spokeswoman stated to DTN in an email.
While most soybeans have around 23% oleic acids and are more dominated by linoleic acid content, at least two soybean seed varieties are considered high oleic and low linoleic, and their oil could meet the new FDA guideline for a health label. Those are Bayer (Monsanto) Vistive Gold soybeans with an oleic content of 72% and the Plenish high oleic soybean by DuPont Pioneer, now Corteva Agriscience, which has 75% oleic oil content.
Another reason high oleic soybeans weren’t specifically listed is because Corbion Biotech didn’t specifically petition about soybeans and the United Soybean Board, as a checkoff, is prohibited from lobbying or petitioning federal agencies.
Still, Polly Ruhland, CEO of the United Soybean Board, said she absolutely hopes the qualified health label will spur more interest in farmers growing the beans and food processors using them.
“USB’s been working on the high oleic project for a number of years now,” Ruhland said. “We’re starting to feel it has got a number of legs under it now.” She added, “I really believe this could be one more step in proving high oleic soybeans work in the market, so I’m very optimistic about it.”
The United Soybean Board has spent the last few years on a stimulus program to promote the production and processing of high oleic soybeans in the food industry. On its website “Qualisoy,” (www.qualisoy.com) the United Soybean Board says it is investing $60 million to expand seed production and “drive conversion” to high oleic soybean oil, dubbed “HOSoy.” Some of the investment is to help processors pay for the various testing costs needed for them to consider switching oils. At the end of August, USB closed bidding for promotional efforts to stimulate the use of at least 30 million pounds of HOSoy over a two-year program.
“We know from research consumers are really interested in food as, I don’t want to say medicine, but that’s what they call it, — food as a primary health enabler,” Ruhland said. “People are thinking about food as a basic level of health maintenance these days. So once they know certain ingredients are healthy, or healthier, they are more interested in that product.”
On another website, www.soyinnovation.com, USB touts the benefits to farmers of growing high oleic soybeans, maintaining that yield is on par with — or better than — average while processors may pay a premium now for high oleic beans because of the benefits to end users. The website also shows farmers where high oleic soybeans are accepted by processors.
High oleic soybeans are just a sliver of overall soybean production. Of the 90 million acres planted in soybeans last year, USB cites about 625,000 acres were planted in high oleic varieties. Still, USB sees significant growth potential in high oleic soybean oil over the next decade, growing from roughly 300 million pounds of estimated production this year to 9.3 billion pounds by 2027.
One of the reasons crop production has slowed was at least one of the seed varieties took a longer time getting European Union approval, but that hurdle has been cleared, Ruhland said.
“Maybe we won’t see those acres grow as much this year because of regulatory challenges, the late EU approval primarily, but I really believe based on the research we have done and the focus on the market-pull program that in the next three years we should see pretty significant takeoff of this market,” Ruhland said. “But it takes those food companies a long time to make those decisions and ensure the taste profile is exactly what they want. But we’re patient and we believe we have the best product.”
On the Qualisoy website, a YouTube video posted in September spotlights a restaurant owner and dietician championing high oleic soybean oil to improve the quality of fried foods. The oleic acid allows longer use of the oil because less oil is being taken up by the food, the video states.
“What high oleic soybean oil is allowing restaurants to have is the ability to see a difference in the nutritional profile, but there’s more,” said Pam Smith, a registered dietician and culinary nutrition consultant, in the promotional video. “Also seeing an improved eating experience — better color, better moisture in the food.” Smith later adds there is a decline in the fat uptake using the oil. (To see the video, visit: https://www.youtube.com/….)
FDA announcement on qualified health claims of high oleic oils: https://www.fda.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com