The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent Monsanto a letter of no objection, indicating that the company’s new product–nutritionally improved Vistive Gold soybeans–is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

Vistive Gold soybeans contain an oil that can be used to reduce the amount of saturated and trans fats in foods.  Monsanto claims that the new product’s traits confer “significantly extended fry life” as well as remain more stable at elevated temperatures than their existing Vistive oils or conventional soybean oils.

Under the Vistive brand, Monstanto already has low-linoenic soybean oils on the market.  These oils have been used by KFC and Kellogg’s to reduce the amount of trans fats in their products.

Of the new product, Victor Bohuslavsky, Vice Chairman of Qualisoy (a marketing body for the soybean industry) said, “Oil from these beans can help food companies meet their reduced trans and saturated fat goals.  It’s also got the flexibility to be used alone or with other oils to optimize cost and taste.”

Monsanto’s Roy Fuchs also commented on the new soybean, “This product could offer farmers and the food industry an opportunity to help meet a growing demand for healthier foods.”

Soybeans are high in linolenic acid, which reduces the shelf life and stability of products made from soy oil in general.  In order to correct this issue, soy oil is often partially hydrogenated to reduce linolenic acid levels.  But this process produces artery-clogging trans fatty acids.

In order to eliminate the need for hydrogenation, plant breeders like Monsanto have tried to develop healthier beans.  The company commented that it is seeking food application partnerships with companies interested in developing foods containing the healthier oil.  

The change in bean production comes because of the increasing pressure put on food processors to eliminate trans fats from foods after studies found that the fats raise levels of LDL cholesterol and lower levels of HDL cholesterol.  LDL is considered ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL is considered ‘good’ cholesterol by scientists.  The reversal of cholesterol levels causes clogged arteries, which can in turn cause heart disease.

In 2006, the FDA issued a regulation requiring manufacturers to list trans fatty acids on the nutrition panel of foods, which further encourages companies to reduce the amount of trans fats from their products.