Is canola oil genetically modified?

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This blog entry is inspired by one of my patients who recently told me she is afraid to eat canola oil because she heard it is genetically modified. Because many rumors are circulating these days regarding canola oil that are not quite true, I want to take a moment to share some facts.

Canola oil was developed from mustard rape, or rapeseed. The developers used a natural process of plant breeding that entails selecting certain plants that display a desired characteristic, breeding them to produce more plants with that trait, and repeating this over many generations in order to increase the percentage of plants with the desired characteristic.

It would be like a rabbit breeder who desires rabbits with really long ears and to that end selects only the bunnies with the longest ears from each generation for reproduction. As the generations go by, the resulting rabbits would tend to have very long ears. Are these bunnies genetically modified? No. Their ancestors were simply selected for reproduction because they naturally contained the genetic predisposition to have the desired trait: huge ears. Because this trait has been passed down over the generations, the offspring also have big ears.

In the case of canola oil, the desired trait was low erucic acid. Rapeseed naturally has an abundance of erucic acid, which in large amounts can be toxic to humans. The canola developers wanted lower erucic acid so they selected the plants with the lowest amount of erucic acid for breeding. After many iterations, the result was the canola plant, which has very low levels of erucic acid.

The development of canola oil preceded the rise of genetic modification techniques by decades. Since that time, some canola plants have been genetically modified for such purposes as making them more resistant to pests. While I was unable to find any credible research showing genetically modified canola oil to be dangerous, I understand that some people are not comfortable using it. For those who wish to avoid genetically modified canola oil, consider buying organic canola oil. By law, organic products have not been genetically modified.

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