Toops Scoops: Cargill builds a sustainable supply chain for its oils

How do you turn wellness trends into reality? It comes down to the mystery of the black box – problem-based situations that offer a hypothetical mystery and need to be solved.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list trans fat (i.e., trans fatty acids) on Nutrition Facts and some Supplement Facts panels. Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, over 12.5 million Americans suffer from CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. This makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. today.

FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label since 1993. By adding trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (required by January 1, 2006), consumers now know for the first time how much of all three -- saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol -- are in the foods they choose.
Saturated and trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol, and are beneficial when consumed in moderation. Therefore, it is advisable to choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.

Source: FDA

Cargill, meanwhile, was on the same wavelength. In 1994, knowing that trans fat would be an issue, the company purchased InterMountain Canola Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont Agricultural Products Group, with the express purpose of creating a high-oleic oil to lower and eventually remove trans fat. That was more than 10 years before trans fat labeling appeared on packaged foods.

The InterMountain acquisition was perfectly timed and included the expertise of DeBonte and Willie Loh, now vice president of marketing for Cargill Oils & Shortenings. Cargill built a team committed to improving the health and stability of canola oil, and natural breeding techniques led to the development of healthier oils that maintain stability in a variety of applications. Since Cargill controls the entire supply chain it can ensure the purity of the oil trait in the seeds. In 1997, the division moved to a former wheat breeding station in Fort Collins.

It costs millions of dollars and years of work to examine and test several hundred thousand plants to identify the next generation. And since there are two customers – the oil customer and the grower – Cargill is continually improving the seed variety for increased yield and agronomic performance even though the oil trait may remain the same and only one new variety of seed is developed every two years.

Recent investments in the Ft. Collins facility, the expansion of the Aberdeen, Saskatchewan, breeding center and a new seed-processing center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, create a focus on oil innovation, most recently around omega-3s and low saturate technology. However, the grower also is an important customer. To convince thousands of growers to be part of the program and contract over 1.5 million acres in Canada and North Dakota, the canola plants must have the same yield and disease resistance that growers would find from other canola plants.

Today, some 125,000 seeds are planted per acre, and plants mature in 90 days. "Canola has the highest oil content (45 percent) compared to soy at 18 percent, so the output per acre is great," says DeBonte.

By 2005, the backlash on trans fat was in full bloom; food manufacturers needed healthier replacement oils with relatively low cost and high performance. Cargill was ready with a gene to plate approach, ensuring traceability and no cross-contamination.

The Victory Hybrid canola seed platform is the basis for Clear Valley oils CV 65 (which is 65 percent oleic acid and 3 percent ALA) and CV 75 (75 percent oleic acid and 3 percent ALA). Both of these oils have been developed to create a longer fry life in frying applications and a longer shelf life in products requiring higher oxidative stability -- such as nutrition bars, cereals, beverages, etc. Blends including canola, corn, soybean and/or sunflower seeds are available for certain flavor and mouthfeel attributes.

Clear Valley Low Saturate Oil, a high stability canola oil with 4 to 4.5 percent saturated fat, 40 percent less than conventional canola oil, and the lowest amount of saturated fat of any vegetable oil, was announced last year. "This is the next step in improving the nutritional profile of fats and improving people's health," says DeBonte. "There's so much passion here to create better oils. Cargill has removed hundreds of millions of pounds of trans fats from foods and has changed people's lives without the flavor, texture or taste of the food changing."

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