When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that trans fats must appear on a product’s Nutrition Facts label, the United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff, along with its industry partners, launched a long-term strategy to develop new healthier soybean traits.

The results of these checkoff-funded efforts have lessened the blow many in the agriculture sector have felt by companies rushing to reformulate products to reduce or eliminate trans fat content.

“The soybean industry created a soy-based trans fat solution (called low-linolenic soybean oil) that changed the face of the market, and protected American livelihoods while delivering a healthier future from farm to table,” notes Chuck Myers, chairman of USB and a farmer from Lyons, Nebraska.

Myers explains, “Without it, our economic analysis shows that food companies would have reduced their need for soybean oil by 894 million pounds, soybean production would have dropped by 25 million bushels, and farmers would have earned 10.8 cents less per bushel. The analysis shows we prevented a cumulative lost income for U.S. soybean producers of $703.2 million.”

The loss would have affected not only farmers, but also the seed sector, grain elevators, edible oil processors and refiners, food manufacturers and many other aspects of the food industry. Food companies needed to take the trans out, and thanks in part to USB’s leadership and the foresight of the industry, most products today are labeled with zero grams of trans fat.

Richard Cristol, president of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers adds, “Soybean oil is a natural plant oil that is very important to the margarine industry. While the margarine industry began removing trans fats from its products well before the FDA labeling requirement, USB has been and continues to be a valued partner in developing and promoting

Myers describes milestones in USB’s trans fat leadership over the years, including:

“Understanding trans fats’ effect on human health”: USB was a significant contributor to early studies defining trans fats’ effect on health, through research performed at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Participating as a founding member of the Trans Fat Coalition”: From 1994 to 2006, this group invested in new science, communicated findings to the public and provided timely information to government agencies, such as providing comments to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees and responding to the FDA’s requests for comment.

“Mapping the soybean genome”: As early as 1995, USB funded research to map the soybean genome and use advanced techniques to improve the bean’s fatty acid profile to produce oil without partial hydrogenation (the process that creates trans fats).

“Working with the whole value chain to identify desirable traits for the future”: USB assembled experts from all aspects of the industry in 1998 to get input on solutions that would meet their needs. A platform called QUALISOYTM emerged to accelerate the development and commercialization of enhanced trait soybeans in the research pipeline.

As a result, food companies today can use low-linolenic soybean oil in light frying, sauces, rolls and pizza dough. Companies are also testing the next generation — increased-oleic soybean oil — for use in crackers, baked goods, margarines and shortenings.

Beyond trans fat solutions, lowering saturated fat will support heart health and cholesterol reduction. USB’s value chain analysis estimates high-oleic soybean oils to supply a $780 million average annual return in income throughout the industry. Soybean farmers stand to gain nearly $1.2 billion per year from the introduction of mid-oleic/low-saturate soybeans.

After first turning its attention to trans fat in the 1990s, USB continues to offer resources for a range of improvements from flavor and shelf stability to health benefits for the consumer.

Food companies can take advantage of USB’s online offerings and e-mailed newsletters for regular updates, visit USB at industry events such as tradeshows and conferences or even request USB deliver an oils expert to their corporate headquarters for an individualized consultation.

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.