London, November 3 : A genetically modified soya bean, which can help to prevent heart attacks, has passed the first phase of trials in the United States.
Researchers at the University of South Dakota say that the promising results of the experiments have cleared the way for its use in foods such as spreads, yoghurts, cereal bars, and salad dressings.
The researchers said that their study had shown that oil from the GM soya could raise blood concentrations of long-chain omega3 acids, which are found chiefly in oily fish such as salmon, trout and fresh tuna.
They highlighted the fact that omega3 acids protect against cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and help the growth of brain cells in the young.
While health experts recommend a portion of oily fish every week, most adults ignore the advice. Efforts to promote fish consumption have also raised concerns about fragile marine stocks.
However, the university team says that the GM soya can offers a sustainable, fish-free way in which people can maintain a diet rich in omega3 fatty acids.
Biotechnology company Monsanto is said to have harvested 600 tonnes of the GM soya beans this year from trial plots in the US, some of which ahs already been passed on to food companies to develop products.
The company hopes to secure the US Food and Drug Administration's approval for the GM soya as a food by 2011, something that will allow it to reach American supermarket shelves by 2012.
Soya products with health benefits of the omega3 oil could even be exported to Britain, should the European Food Safety Authority and the FSA's novel foods committee approve them.
Any such product would be clearly labelled as GM, in the US and Europe.
"We'll want to label it. Consumers will have a choice: some may choose not to try it, but others will," Times Online quoted David Stark, Monsanto's vice-president for consumer traits, as saying.
"It's another reason for consumers to pause and consider whether GM has a role to play. I think it does, not only for how we deliver food for the planet, but also for how we protect our own health. We've shown for years that GM crops can control pests. That's important to consumers, but not in a personal way. Hopefully this will be personal enough to make a difference," he added.
A research article on the first phase of trials of the GM soya has been published in the journal Lipids.