If approved for more markets, will Ultra-low Gossypol Cottonseed (ULGCS) be a big boost for the U.S. cotton industry? There’s a good, exciting possibility.
“We certainly need something to boost our industry,” says Randy Ainsworth, Louisiana ginner and outgoing president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association. ULGCS “could really give us a shot in the arm. We all need to get behind this and push for it.”
At the recent Beltwide meeting in San Antonio, Greg Holt, USDA-ARS Research Leader, Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit, explained the technology and what it might bring.
“Gossypol is a naturally occurring defense within the cotton plant,” says Holt. “It not only keeps the plant safer from many pests but is also a toxin to animals, including humans, who consume it and aren’t able to process it.”
Issues and questions
Among the questions and misperceptions around gossypol:
- The natural defense of the plant is compromised.
“Some people say ‘don’t compromise the plant’s natural defense. We’ve done this before, it’s old technology and it doesn’t work. The integrity of the plant is hampered,’” says Holt.
When this is cited, people are “usually confusing the glandless cottonseed — a mutant discovered in the 1950s — with ULGCS. It’s easy to get confused on this point.
“But ULGCS isn’t glandless and it’s not the natural mutant. Regular cottonseed has from 7,000 to 10,000 parts per million of gossypol in the seed kernel. Meanwhile, engineered ULGCS, a GMO, keeps gossypol in every part of the cotton plant except the kernel. And the kernel’s gossypol level drops to about 250 parts per million.
“So, the gossypol, the natural defense of the plant that prevents it from being eaten by everything that makes cotton look like a good meal is still in the plant — just not in the kernel.”
How did the technology come about? “A Texas A&M researcher found that delta cadinene synthase was absent in the natural mutant.”
- ULGCS not available for use — intellectual property issues.
- Not approved/time to market — APHIS and FDA.
There are sometimes concerns ULGCS cottonseed isn’t available “because there are intellectual property issues that prevent it from being used. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have put limits on gossypol for human food. The WHO cap is 600 parts per million for human food and the FDA says 450, or less.”
Meanwhile, the American Association of Feed Control says anything less than 400 parts per million can be sold as “low gossypol.”
Holt says those interested in ULGCS should know there is currently a Federal Register notice open (http://bit.ly/FedRegULGCS) and people can make comments until Feb. 5.
“If you want this technology, make a comment about deregulation. If that happens, it’ll be approved by APHIS and FDA approval is expected by the end of 2018. So, for 2019, ULGCS could be ready to go — approved for feed and without restrictions on use in cottonseed.
“Some say the IP on ULGCS is locked up because the university owns it. That isn’t correct — Cotton Incorporated has exclusive rights for licensing and sublicensing the technology. The very people that helped fund a lot of the research into ULGCS have those rights.”
It also isn’t true “the technology is still 20 or 30 years from being approved for use.”
- If ULGCS technology is so good why aren’t seed companies putting it in their seed?
“When people ask this, I say, ‘that’s a good question to ask the seed companies.’”
Holt says “the real question is, with the current market and since this tech is new and just now being shown off, if there was already a supply of ULGCS the market isn’t set up for its use broadly. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used, though. It has been evaluated in numerous aquaculture studies and other things. People just aren’t aware of what’s been done or its potential.”
Mills would benefit the most from ULGCS. “That’s because mills make money from either an increase in the value of their products or reducing costs of processing. If all cottonseed was ULGCS they wouldn’t need near as much caustic to change it from a crude product” to Prime Bleachable Summer Yellow (cottonseed oil grade).
Also, says Holt, “If a seed company was to put this technology in, there’s no way for them to get extra revenue for themselves. The grower isn’t going to immediately benefit from the seed. Ultimately he will if the value of cottonseed goes up because all these new markets open up. But that isn’t the case immediately. So, why would the seed companies put the tech in the seed if there’s no way to recover their costs?
“It isn’t like putting weed- or insect-resistance into seed which the producer can see affects his bottom line. The market for ULGCS has to be established downstream before there’s value upstream.”
Yield and contamination worries
- ULGCS technology hurts yield and is only for use in conventional cottonseed.
“There is a misperception that only conventional cottonseed can be used with this tech — no BT or GMOs. There have been 12 studies across four U.S. geographical areas showing the technology doesn’t show any change in fiber properties or yields in cotton.”
“This is more of a concern from the ginning and oil mill sides.
“Some people believe gossypol-free will be bad to get mixed in with regular gossypol. Actually, putting ULGCS in with regular cottonseed doesn’t negatively impact the dairy industry. What you have to watch for is putting conventional cottonseed in with ULGCS.”
The way to prevent that is to keep the cottonseed separate at the gin — “just like they do with organic and conventional cotton,” says Holt. “The gins that process organic cotton have systems to keep the lint and seed separate from conventional. They already know how to do this.”
- ULGCS will negatively impact the value of existing cottonseed/other vegetable proteins.
“I’m unaware of a single economic model that says if you expand your market it’s a bad thing. If you can only feed cottonseed to mature ruminants, that’s the lowest efficiency and value. The ULGCS advantage means you can climb the pyramid — from ruminants at the bottom to pigs and chickens to pests and horses to aquaculture and then humans — and achieve the highest value. The revenue stream at the top of the pyramid would be great — we could be challenged to produce enough cottonseed.”
How could it impact humans?
“Well, 44 million metric tons a year of cottonseed producing 10 million tons of protein would be enough to satisfy the protein needs of 600 million people daily. That would be incredibly impactful for the third world, for humanitarian needs.”
Already, food has been developed with ULGCS.
“They’re able to make things from a product that’s equivalent to soy milk to crackers — made with cottonseed butter and they’re very tasty — to products that are like pine nuts or sunflower seeds and other things.
“So, cotton producers could be growing not only fiber but food. All the inputs put into growing the crop would have a two-fold purpose.”
- Gossypol still remains so doesn’t that prevent using it for human consumption?
“It’s true that ULGCS isn’t free of gossypol but just has low amounts.”
How does that translate?
“If we can remove the gossypol toxin from the seed, there doesn’t seem to be any reason we wouldn’t do it. When I speak with people about this it’s usually educational for them and they go away with a better understanding. This is good news. Many say ‘I didn’t realize the technology was this far along.’”