Look out olive oil. Production of high-oleic acid soybean oil is set to rise 20-fold in less than five years and biotech giants Monsanto and DuPont expect food industry demand to grow fast.

Engineered to be high in the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat olive oil is famed for, nearly 50,000 tons of the new soybean oil are due to be made in the United States this year. But output is to soar to 143,000 tons next year and more than a million in 2017, with exports then exceeding 31,000 tons and 1.9 million hectares under cultivation.

The projections are in a discussion paper produced by the U.S. for this week’s Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO) meeting – which started Monday in Penang – seeking inclusion of a standard for high-oleic soybean oil in the Codex standard for vegetable oils.

New generation soybean oil healthier, more stable

The U.S. says the standard would facilitate global trade in the new oil, which it expects to soon gain wide acceptance thanks to its increased stability and shelf life. The latter are critical factors in food processing and frying, where nearly 80 percent of all soybean oil is used, and would offset the oil’s initial higher price.

The high-oleic version also avoids development of unhealthy trans fats by eliminating the need for hydrogenation.

Mid-oleic sunflower oil became available in 1998 and by 2005 captured most of the sunflower oil market in North America. But as the improved functionality of mid- and high-oleic oils is now more widely known, demand for high-oleic soybean oil “will increase even more rapidly,” the U.S. anticipates.

According to the soybean industry coalition Qualisoy, DuPont’s Pioneer subsidiary was the first in the ring with Plenish, a high-oleic soybean delivering a fry-life 2-3 times conventional soybean oil’s, and next was Monsanto with Vistive® Gold, which furthermore promises less saturated fat.

Both used the biotech process gene silencing to increase oleic acid content. DuPont boasts a level of more than 75 percent, “similar to olive oil.” In comparison, the American Oil Chemists’ Society says that the newest generation of high-oleic canola oil is up to 80 percent oleic acid and dominates the high oleic market.

Colombia and Argentina also pushing for new high-oleic oil standards

Meanwhile, Colombia is also seeking a Codex standard, for a high-oleic version of regular palm oil – neck and neck with soybean as the most consumed vegetable oil globally. Production of the high oleic variety, called OxG, is forecast to reach 210,000 tons in Latin America alone by 2015, with 170,000 tons available for export.

And Argentina wants a standard covering its high stearic, high-oleic sunflower oil.

The CCFO has previously approved creation of separate standards for high-oleic safflower oil and high-oleic sunflower oil. It is responsible for worldwide standards for fats and oils designed to protect consumer health and ensure fair trade.

Concerns in olive oil sector

The increase in high oleic alternatives comes as the olive oil sector itself tries to raise global awareness of its products’ health benefits and suitability for frying and wider food manufacture. In Spain, for instance, the “Plan Frituras” initiative promotes reasons to use olive oil instead of refined oils in hospitality and food service.

Spain’s olive oil sector – which last year rejected a European Union claim it was overproducing olive oil – is said to have raised concerns with its government over the market impact of more high- oleic oils. But while government representatives from around the world are attending the CCFO meeting, the peak body for the olive oil sector, the International Olive Council, is not, due to a previously reported budget problem.

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