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Soyabean Oil

A liquid oil extracted from the beans of a soya plant. The plant is approximately 50cm high and the soyabeans are found in the pods, which contain between 2 and 4 beans. The beans vary in size and shape, and may be round or oval according to the variety. The colour varies from yellow to green. The harvest starts when the soybean ripens, which occurs with the shedding of the leaves. Harvesting usually begins around late September/early October in the Northern Hemisphere.

Soybean oil is the world's 2nd largest vegetable oil crop, at around 36 million tonnes. The crop is grown extensively in South America and the USA. Today, the EU produces only 8% of the soyabeans it crushes with the remaining balance imported, representing around 13 million tonnes.

On crushing mature beans, the yield is on average only 18-20% oil with 78-80% meal obtained which provides a major, high protein ingredient for animal feeds.  Soyabean oil is one of the world's most used vegetable oils for edible applications, hence it is mainly used in applications like baking fats, mayonnaise, frying oil, salad and cooking oils and as an ingredient in margarine and spreads. Besides food applications, soyabean oil is also used by the chemical and technical industry in applications like varnish and lacquer.

The typical composition of soyabean oil is (%):

  • Monounsaturates 24
  • Polyunsaturates 61
  • Saturates 15

The use of soyabean oil in this country did decline following the decision in the USA to produce a genetically modified version of the plant. However, more recently the 'traditional' non GM variant has become more widely used. More than 70% of the soyabean crop grown worldwide is now genetically modified.

Worldwide in 2002, GM crops were grown in 58.7 million hectares, an area equivalent to two and a half times the area of the UK and representing 18% of the total land under cultivation across the globe. GM soya, almost all of which was herbicide tolerant, and GM maize, two-thirds of which was insect resistant and one-third herbicide tolerant, accounted for 80% of this area.

Soyabean production is one of the fastest growing industries in South America and is one of the largest sources of income, generating development and providing employment in several countries in the region. Extensive cultivation and the expansion of agricultural frontiers also entail high social and environmental costs, such as deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion. Rapid growth of soya production also signifies a threat to the rich biological diversity in the region.

The Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS) is a multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to facilitate a global dialogue on soya production that is economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sound. It provides stakeholders and interested parties – producers, social organizations and business and industry - with the opportunity to jointly develop global solutions leading to responsible soya production.


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