Courtesy Bayer CropScience
Vegetarians who object to eating hormone-enhanced meat products may want to check the origins of their favorite bean curd. In 2010, 93 percent of all commercially grown soybeans in the U.S. were genetically modified. In most cases, genes were inserted that enable the plant to resist herbicides. In this photo, GM soybean plants are shown growing in a petri dish.
Even meat-eaters are familiar with soy — fermented soybeans make soy sauce; soybeans are used to make vegetable oil, used in kitchens worldwide; and anyone who eats fast food would recognize "partially hydrogenated soybean oil," which is high in trans fats.
Incidentally, genetic modification might make this common oil better for you. Monsanto, DuPont and others also sell soybean seeds that produce healthier oil, higher yield and herbicide tolerance. In June, DuPont was the first to obtain federal approval for its transgenic high-oleic soybeans, designed to reduce trans fats by eliminating the need for hydrogenation. Monsanto is making soybeans that have been modified to produce precursors to omega-3 fatty acids, high-value healthy fats that are normally only found in fish.
Syngenta is working with a firm called Evogene to develop plants that can resist the soybean nematode, a parasite that causes up to $1 billion in annual crop losses in the U.S. Bayer CropScience is also studying soybean cultivation and protection.
Higher yields are one of the main motivations for GM soybean research. At Monsanto's St. Louis headquarters, a potted Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean plant is proudly displayed next to a non-GMO plant. The modified plant boasts many more clusters of fuzzy bean pods, and there are more beans in each pod. The company is working with BASF to increase yield even more, offering potentially higher profits for soybean growers.