- Israel-based startup Equinom is developing non-GMO soybeans with higher protein levels, which the company said in a release will deliver a tastier product with a better nutritional profile. According to a 2016 report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, 94% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.
- The company cited a report that said U.S. soy yields have jumped nearly 60% since 1986, while protein content has stayed flat at about 35%. The company's soybean lines contain nearly 58% protein — which it said is 50% higher than the industry standard.
- Using computerized technology, Equinom breeds for protein load, taste, texture and nutritional composition targeted to soy milk, tofu, fermented natto, miso and soy protein isolates. The company stated its crops come from "a strictly non-GMO environment, with no gene editing or manipulation."
Equinom is positioning itself in a relatively small niche of the soybean market since the U.S. is the largest producer of GMO crops in the world — with non-GMO soybeans comprising just 6% of the total. However, that percentage could change if more non-GMO soybeans with higher protein levels are planted and become more widely available.
According to a CoBank report, demand for both organic and non-GMO foods led to a jump in organic grain imports in 2016. While domestic production of non-GMO crops increased that year, soybeans fell short of demand.
While consumers may seek out non-GMO soy, others may likely not know or care about genetic modification altogether.
The lack of awareness of GMOs among consumers may change once new labeling required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture starts showing up on products. While Equinom and other producers of non-GMO soy ingredients won't bear the label, the current interpretation of the labeling law may make that benefit negligible. Highly refined products made from GMO soy — along with 12 other commonly bioengineered crops and foods — may not need to have the label because the modified DNA will not be detectable.
What many consumers may care more about is the protein content of their foods and beverages. Dietary trends and consumer interest in healthier lifestyles and fitness regimens are fueling some of this demand for protein. Makers of protein-rich products often inform consumers about levels and sources of protein in order to bolster their transparency and maximize sales. Soy protein is used in many products, and a more protein-rich variety could help make products stand out.
But will consumers mind the fact that their non-GMO soy was bred using computer algorithms? It depends. Many consumers who oppose GMOs don't know much about them. Experts have said the science behind GMOs is easily misunderstood. However, computer algorithms and detailed computations are often used in plant breeding. Consumers may be far enough removed from how their food is produced that background processes — which are not disclosed on a label — will not matter much to them.