A new gene-edited soybean oil has gone on sale in the United States. The oil was developed by Calyxt who highlighted Calyno’s high oleic oil and zero trans fat content while largely glossing over the role genetic engineering played in its development.
Calyxt stated that Calyno has not been genetically modified as the soybeans, which produce Calyno, have had no foreign genes introduced into their existing DNA.
Unlike GMOs, we simply edit existing genes within crops using our technology to speed up a process that otherwise could have happened in nature
The company does, however, use a gene-editing technology known as Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nuclease (TALEN), which tweaks the genes of plants.
“Unlike GMOs, we simply edit existing genes within crops using our technology to speed up a process that otherwise could have happened in nature,” a company spokesperson told Forbes. “No foreign DNA is added to the product.”
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Gene-edited foods are exempt from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s lengthy regulatory process that is applicable to GMO products, however, a Calyxt spokesman told Forbes that Calyno had completed the FDA’s voluntary review process.
“Calyno oil is similar to other healthy oils Americans already love, like olive, sunflower and safflower oils, and can easily be incorporated into foods and recipes without affecting taste,” Calyxt CEO, Jim Blome, said in the press release.
Although Calyxt described itself as a consumer-centric company, Calyno has yet to find its way onto supermarkets shelves. Until now it has been sold solely to the foodservice industry, where demand is high for new trans-fat-free frying oils with both long fry and extended shelf lives.
The company hopes to make Calyno available for consumers.
“Our next focus is scaling up the supply chain so that we can meet the growing demand for healthier high-oleic soybean oil not only for small and midsized food manufacturers but also for global consumer packaged goods brands,” Manoj Sahoo, Calyxt’s chief commercial officer, said in the press release.
According to that press release, Calyno is trans-fat-free, contains approximately 80 percent oleic acid and has up to 20 percent less saturated fat than regular soybean oil.
Calyxt believes their high-oleic oil will eventually become a market competitor to olive oil, offering a similar nutritional profile but with a more neutral taste. The company has reportedly accrued $74 million in debt from research and development.
“This historical commercialization of the first-ever gene-edited food product is a testament that food manufacturers and consumers are not only embracing innovation but also willing to pay a premium for products which are healthier and traceable to the source,” Sahoo said.
A 2018 survey revealed that 69 percent of U.S. consumers were not confident they knew what GMOs were and 32 percent were not comfortable with the use of GMOs in their food products. A 2016 report from The National Academies of Sciences stated there were no greater health risks associated with GMO foods than their conventional counterparts.
Gene-edited products, such as Calyno, will be exempt from new labeling regulations which come into force next year for genetically modified ingredients, on the grounds that changes made by gene-editing could, in theory, occur naturally. Highly refined foods in which processing destroys any genetic material are also exempt.
Calyno is the Minnesota-based company’s first product to be sold in the U.S. The company have their sight set on producing other new consumer-focused gene-edited foods including high fiber wheat and reduced browning potatoes and have launched a high-oleic soybean meal hailed as a premium non-GMO feed ingredient for livestock.
Scientists at Calyxt first began to use gene-editing techniques to make soybeans more like olives back in 2017, after the USDA’s green light for gene-edited crops.
Ironically, a 2014 study suggested that extra virgin olive oil reduced the damage caused by GMO soybeans.
Calyxt, which was founded in 2010 as a subsidiary of the French biotech company Cellectis, sources its soybeans from more than 100 Midwestern growers with 34,000 acres of the soybean plants.