soybean crop
Monsanto hopes its SDA omega-3 soybean oil will help meet the rising demand for omega-3 fatty acids in a sustainable way.

Over the past few years, various studies have added more evidence to the already well-established benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for human health, especially for maintaining the cardiovascular system and the brain in good shape.

However, the main problem with omega-3 fatty acids is that they mainly come from cold-water fish — a finite source that cannot meet the increasing demand for the product. It is estimated that the global omega-3 food market is worth about $25 billion per year. In addition, fish products are often in question due to the possible presence of toxic chemicals, such as mercury, and other pollutants.

Certain plants also contain omega-3 fatty acids but those are not converted into the human body as efficiently as those from fish. Biotechnology company Monsanto says it has developed a type of genetically engineered soybean oil that produces a type of fatty acid, called stearidonic acid, or SDA, that could be processed to take the same form as omega-3 from fish and be fully utilized by the human body.

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According to Federico Tripodi, coordinator of the project at Monsanto, many food producers are looking for ways to provide alternatives to the fatty acids by maintaining their benefits and product flavor. Monsanto's SDA omega-3 soybean oil would help meet the rising demand for omega-3 fatty acids in a sustainable way, so that consumers could increase their intake of omega-3 as recommended to protect their heart. The product has the potential to transform the market radically, he said.

Still, the product is a long way from reaching end-consumers. Recently, Monsanto announced that its partnership on the project with a St. Louis-based soy ingredient company, Solae, has been canceled but the reasons for that decision were not specified. Shortly after, Monsanto's main rival DuPont announced that it had taken over Solae.

Last week, Monsanto and Netherlands-based science company DSM Nutritional Products signed an agreement which stated that Monsanto would develop varieties of SDA omega-3 soybean oil and would sell seeds to local farmers, whereas DSM Nutritional Products would "have the exclusive global rights to brand, market, package, and sell the SDA soybean oil to the food industry", the two companies said in a statement. Further details of the deal have not been revealed but Monsanto noted that the project is yet to be given regulatory approval.

Will Black, DSM vice president of marketing human nutrition and health, commented that the addition of SDA soybean oil to the company's nutritional lipids portfolio highlights DSM's commitment to delivering top-quality nutritional products that help to sustain human health. The company looks forward to bringing SDA soybean oil to the market and joining forces with food manufacturers to deliver innovative products from which consumers can benefit.