Back on January 26, 2008 I ran a feature posted both on Progressive Values and on Wizbang Blue dealing with the increased use of cottonseed oil in many food products as many companies seek nontransfat alternatives. My main interest was in addressing the severe food allergy problems it causes me and some other persons. Some comments from others such as Christine, Patrick Bannerman, Steve M and RS Martin described claimed cottonseed allergy symptoms including "hives" and "closing of the air passage". And further a Google search turns up more examples of some in the public who suffer from claimed cottonseed allergy symptoms including allergy skin tests that raised a welt in response to cottonseed oil. Some medical information websites such as www.allergeticchild.com also deal with the issue of cottonseed allergies. It should be understood that many different products may trigger food allergies in some persons in the public. Some may be allergic to soy, others peanuts, some shellfish, wheat, etc, my only interest in addressing the cottonseed issue was an educational discussion of food allergies.
Recently however, Ronnie Gilbert who is the Vice President-Oil Sales of Pyco Industries which is the largest of cottonseed oil producers in the United States which operates in both Lubbock, Texas as well as Greenwood, Mississippi, had some serious concerns about my past feature on cottonseed oil that was run on the two websites. I asked him to provide me with any industry information and I would be happy to offer the industry side of this issue discussion as well.
In one letter dealing with allergens that Vice President Gilbert wrote that, "Currently there are no known allergens in cottonseed oil, based on scientific studies. During the extraction process from the whole cottonseed, the oil does not come into contact with any of the eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans". This is of course absolutely true. However some in science will argue that the protein structure of cottonseed oil itself, although not a tree nut, has many protein structure similarities to some tree nuts or even peanuts, and can act as a trigger to many who suffer from allergies to tree nuts and peanuts, and may also suffer a common allergy to cottonseed oil as well due to these protein structure similarities. For this reason, it would seem wise for the food industry to consider to voluntarily label any product containing cottonseed oil as among the group of known allergens for some persons.
Vice President Gilbert also sent me some detailed industry information dealing with issues such as transfats and heart health. And in this regard, as long as cottonseed oil is not hydrogenated it can be considered to be heart healthy to this extent. However, Wikipedia cautioned that cottonseed oil "does contain over 50% Omega-6 fatty acids and only trace amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the imbalance is considered unhealthy if not used in moderation or balanced elsewhere in the diet". The fact of the matter is that many stores that deal exclusively in health foods will not carry any food products containing cottonseed oil for a variety of health issue reasons unlike other vegetable based oils with less controversy.
Vice President Gilbert also was concerned about how my original piece on cottonseed oil dealt with the issue of a toxic substance known as gossypol which must be either removed or rendered harmless from cottonseed oil during processing to make it nontoxic for human consumption. Gossypol may be used as a pesticide due it's toxic nature to insects. While it is unclear to me what form of cottonseed is actually being used by Pyco in their production of cottonseed oil, research at Texas A&M University has created a genetically engineered variety of cotton plant that will provide against insect damage by merely shutting down the genes in just the cotton plant seeds, but leaving the genes producing gossypol intact in the rest of the plant.
However, gossypol in normal and common cotton plants has been known to have some significant effects on reproduction in both animal and human species. In China, it has been the subject of human reproduction research as it appears to cut down the amount of sperm. And in Bulletin 760-20 from Ohio State University, it was warned that in horse feed, while "Cottonseed oil meal contains about 39% protein on an as-fed basis and is second to soybean oil in quality. If it is available and cost effective, it may be used for horses. Cottonseed oil contains a substance called gossypol that interferes with digestion and is particularly unsuitable for feeding foals. Adult horses can tolerate the gossypol. Research in other species has shown cottonseed oil meal to decrease sperm production in males, and this effect is thought to occur in stallions as well". But some early research on gossypol has been conducted to see if the substance has any purpose as a cancer fighting agent as well, so gossypol is considered an important area of ongoing research.
Certainly the cotton industry has been very resourceful to use science to find new uses for the little cottonseed, which was previously discarded while the rest of the plant found it's way into clothing. However with some who suffer from serious food allergies due to cottonseed allergies, health food stores refusal to sell products with cottonseed oil content, as well as some questions about whether cottonseed oil contains any gossypol or not, and whether or not the cottonseed is from a genetically modified variety or not, and questions about gossypol on reproduction in the male species, cottonseed oil still remains a controversial product although companies such as Pyco had done exhaustive research since 1936 on the little cottonseed.
Cottonseed oil, especially in the nonhydrogenated variety will continue to find itself into more and more food products that seek to get rid of transfats, especially snacks like potato chips and cookies as many companies search for a low cost nonhydrogenated oil to use. However, the strong food allergy potential of the product to some persons who experience tongue swelling, throat tightness, hives or other symptoms which are very similar to peanut allergies will continue to make cottonseed oil a controversial choice for use in some food products for some in the public.
Pyco and other major cottonseed oil producers are very likely to see continued sales growth for their product as a low cost alternative to hydrogenated oils or to transfats. However any industry that uses cottonseed oil in products should also be concerned that some persons do experience serious allergies to cottonseed oil, just as some may suffer from allergies to tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, latex, or a number of other potential allergen products. The food industry should really consider adding a voluntary food allergy warning to packages just like they would soy, wheat, eggs, milk, or other potential allergens to warn some persons who may possibly have a known allergy to cottonseed oil.
Vice President Gilbert has also reported to me that Pyco continues to have research done at the respected Texas Women's University on Cottonseed oil. And Gilbert intends to ask this research department about any information about allergy reactions to cottonseed oil and whether more research needs to be done in this area, which proves a commitment of this company to make cottonseed oil as healthy as possible for use with the public as the food industry demand for oils with no tranfat content grows.
I have every reason to believe that a company like Pyco is concerned with offering a high quality and safe product to the American consumer. And it is very encouraging that Pyco works closely with a respected university in research studies regarding both the safety and for new uses of cottonseed products. Perhaps, new research could even lead to a genetic modification of the cottonseed to remove the allergic component someday, but this is still an important health issue for some like me today in foods, where I have to read every food ingredients label to avoid an allergy reaction to foods containing cottonseed oil like some others do as well.
I would also like to thank Vice President Gilbert for being very helpful in providing me a wide variety of company information and studies dealing with cottonseed oil. It is very encouraging to find companies so cooperative and concerned with the public good as this who rely on independent university research to verify the safety of their products for human consumption.