Yum Brands, Inc., the company that owns 5,500 KFC restaurants across the country, has announced it is making a change in its cooking oil that should give new meaning to the words “Finger-Licking Good.”

Yum said it is switching from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to low-linolenic soybean oil. The company specifically cited Monsanto’s Vistive brand of soybeans as the source of its new low-linolenic oil, but other company products will be available.

“We applaud Yum Brands, Inc., on its movement toward eliminating trans fats from Kentucky Fried Chicken products by transitioning to a low-linolenic soybean oil,” said John Becherer, CEO of Qualisoy, a soybean industry initiative aimed at helping market healthier, more functional soybean products to the food industry.

Becherer said the announcement could add an estimated $100 million per year to the value of soybeans grown in the United States. Following the 2006 harvest, he said, 400 million pounds of low-linolenic oil could be available.

More than 1 billion pounds of low-linolenic oil could be in the market following the 2007 harvest if the industry’s plans to ramp up production of the new class of soybeans come to fruition.

Qualisoy officials said soybean farmers have invested $38.5 million in checkoff money to help expand soybean usage through the following areas: animal utilization, industrial utilization, human utilization, supply, industry relations and market access.

Besides the Vistive brand, low-linolenic soybeans that currently meet Qualisoy quality standards include Pioneer brand low-linolenic soybeans and Asoyia ultra low-linolenic soybeans.

Several cooking oils resulting from the low-linolenic soybeans are now on the market. Among those are Advantage LL soy oil processed by Cargill; Vistive low-linolenic soy oil processed by Ag Processing, Cenex Harvest States and Zeeland Farms; Treus brand soy oil, developed in partnership by Bunge and DuPont; and Asoyia ultra low-linolenic soybean oil.

Monsanto officials said they were pleased with the move to low-linolenic soybean oils, the second by a major food company in the last 12 months.

“KFC’s announcement and others like it present a unique opportunity for North American farmers,” said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president of Monsanto. “Demand for this type of oil continues to out-strip supply.

“Farmers can demonstrate to the food industry that they are able to provide the best alternative oil in the fight to reduce trans fats while, at the same time, earning a premium growing low-linolenic soybeans.” (Vistive soybeans are currently available in Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska.)

Last December, Kellogg Co. announced it would reformulate using Qualisoy-approved low-linolenic soybean oil to eliminate trans fats from a number of its food products. Kellogg’s will use a variety processed from Monsanto’s Vistive and Bunge/Pioneer’s Treus low-linolenic soybean oils.

Monsanto has announced it is expanding acreage of Vistive soybeans into Ohio and Maryland. The soybeans carry the Roundup Ready trait and are available in a number of Monsanto and other seed company brands.

The company says it currently has no plans to market low-linolenic soybeans in the South, but researchers are working on a high stearate soybean that will be targeted for southern production. The latter will have higher levels of stearic acid, which means that products such as margarines and shortening won’t have to be hydrogenated.

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