US approves GM cotton for human and animal consumption

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a genetically modified (GM) cotton variety for human and animal consumption, paving the way for a new protein-packed food source and a meal for animal feed.

Ordinary cottonseed was unfit for humans and many animals to eat because it contained high levels of the toxic chemical gossypol, Reuters wrote on 11 October.

The GM TAM66274 cotton developed by Texas A&M University had virtually no gossypol in the cottonseed but retained the chemical in the rest of the plant as it guarded against insects and disease.

The university’s scientists were holding discussions with companies and hoped to have the plant commercially available within about five years, said Texas A&M Agrilife Research plant biotechnologist Keerti Rathore.

The team was also looking seeking regulatory approval in other countries, starting with Mexico.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) last year lifted the regulatory prohibition on cultivation of the modified cotton plant ahead of the FDA’s decision on human consumption, Reuters wrote.

Rathore said the new plant could address the issue of malnutrition in cotton producing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa.

‘Cottonseed can be consumed in many ways. We will continue to crush it to extract oil. However, now the leftover meal with its high protein content can be used as a protein supplement in tortilla, bread and baked goods. The seeds kernels can be roasted and eaten as a snack, as a type of spread or in protein bars.

“We are fully aware of the resistance to GMOs in many countries but I remain hopeful that countries who are desperate for food will adopt this technology,” he added.

“The amount of protein locked up in the annual output of cottonseed worldwide is about 10.8 trillion grams,” Rathore said. “That is more than what is present in all the chicken eggs produced globally, and enough to meet the basic protein requirements of over 500M people.”

The new cottonseed could also be used as a feed for poultry, pigs and farmed aquatic species like fish and shrimp.