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Cottonseed as Protein Researh & Methods

Cottonseed as Protein Researh & Methods

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Published by: nneel_22p on Dec 26, 2009
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02/18/2011

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Cottonseed as Protein, Moving Up the Food Chain by Alex OwreThe white lint that is spun into cotton yarn constitutes roughly a quarterof the raw plant matter sucked into a cotton stripper. Over the years,U.S. producers have learned to squeeze maximum value out the rest,especially the seeds. For every pound of fiber, 1.6 pounds of seed areproduced. Once considered garbage and dumped in streams, cottonseedhas long been used as cattle feed, fertilizer, and in countless industrialapplications.Cottonseed oil comprises about 16% of a seed, by weight; is a well-known ingredient in many processed snack foods; and is the mostvaluable cottonseed product. Current EPA regulations classify it as safefor human consumption after it has been refined to remove volatilecompounds such as monoglycerides, some pigments, free fatty acids, fattyoxidation products, pesticide residues and other undesirable compounds.
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Once most of the oil has been removed, the meal, the second mostvaluable product of cottonseed, is used principally as livestock feed.Constituting nearly half of a seed’s weight, the meal contains 23% of a high biological-value protein.Today, nearly 10% of U.S.-produced meal goes to fish farms, where somespecies thrive on it. Fish farmers praise it as a cheap, highly nutritiousalternative to fish meal, which is composed primarily of wild-caughtmarine species, the price of which continues to climb as natural fishstocks dwindle.In October, the National Organic Standards Board voted to considerdeveloping organic standards for some farm-raised fish species, whileunanimously voting against creating national organic standards for wild-caught fish. Some argue that this could put aquaculturists at adisadvantage to the beef and poultry industries, which are now eligiblefor organic labeling.But cottonseed might provide a loophole. In a recent study funded by theNational Cottonseed Products Association and the Cotton Foundation,
 
Ohio State University researchers replaced fish meal protein withcottonseed meal protein in up to 100% of the diet of rainbow trout(“Plant-Based Meal Paves Way for "Organically-Grown" Fish,â€
 
OSU Extension). The growth of the fish was unaffected by the switch, sothe researchers suggest that cottonseed meal could replace fish meal asthe main protein source of species such as trout, making them eligible fororganic labeling.Most fish and other non-ruminant animals, including humans, cannot eatcottonseed because it contains a toxin called gossypol. When eaten bypeople, this polyphenolic anti-nutrient damages the heart and liver.For years, scientists have tried to breed cotton with gossypol levels safefor consumption. In the 1950s they succeeded, but because the toxin wasmissing from leaves as well as seeds, the plants proved defenseless againstpests. But last November – via a new technique called RNAinterference, or RNAi, a gene-silencing mechanism for which itsdiscoverers Andrew Fire and Craig Mello won the 2006 Nobel Prize forMedicine – researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Stationsucceeded in lowering the gossypol level in seeds while sparing the rest of the plant.The result of this experimentation (partially funded by CottonIncorporated) is being hailed by the cotton industry and biotechnologistsas a breakthrough in the struggle against world hunger. According to Dr.Keerti Rathore
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, one of the Texas researchers, the current level of 44million tons of cottonseed produced globally each year, containing 22%high-quality protein, could feed 500 million people. Studies in animals,including humans, using gossypol-free, glandless cottonseed flour, haveshown that cottonseed protein promotes growth, weight gain, and apositive nitrogen balance (less N is excreted through urine, feces andsweat than is taken in). Researchers are already experimenting withlowering gossypol levels in indigenous African cotton strains, as well asemploying RNAi technology on other crops with toxic components, suchas fava beans.Solution to Hunger … or Diversion?Industry estimates put the time-to-market for low-gossypol cotton at 10years. Scientists maintain that cotton farmers in poor countries will
 
doubly benefit from a crop that can be sold for food (or be eaten directly)and clothing. Supporters of genetic engineering hope that the prospect of â€œfeeding the worldâ€
with cotton will win over skeptics and changepolicies of those poor countries that are, so far, resisting the pressure togive in to genetically engineered (GE) crops.Environmentalists remain wary, citing the example of golden rice,genetically engineered to contain vitamin A but requiring consumption of huge amounts to derive any benefit. (Furthermore, fields that are notclean cultivated usually contain edible greens that are rich in vitamin Aand other nutrienets.) Edible-seed variety cotton will not solve theproblems of GE foods, environmentalists maintain, but will exacerbatethem. Zachary Makanya, in his excellent article for
 Seedling Magazine
(August 2004,www.grain.org/seedling/?id=294)), explains why GE cropshave no place in African agriculture (a target market for low-gossypolcotton). GE crops –
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will contaminate non-GE crops; co-existence is not possible;2.will foster dependence on a corporate seed supply;
3.
will usher in “Terminatorâ€
and “Traitorâ€
technologies;4.will increase the use of chemicals;5.are patented;6.favor industrial agricultural systems;
7.
threaten organic and sustainable farming;8.require biosafety systems unrealistic for African countries;9.will not reduce hunger in Africa;10.will not resolve problems with pests;11.will encourage arbitrary destruction of biodiversity;12.are a threat to human health.Says Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK: “Poverty and hunger arecomplex problems caused by bad government, poor economies and war.It is not just a matter of finding a new wonder plant.â€
Concerning cottonseed as fish meal, the problem of crashing oceanpopulations will put into perspective any satisfaction we derive from fishthat will eat, and even thrive, on cotton’s protein. As fish meal,cottonseed might open new channels of discussion around organic foodlabeling, but as human food, is the science of edible cottonseed a red-herring in the real struggle to feed the world’s poor?

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