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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]

Canola is a type of edible oil derived from plants initially bred in Canada by Keith Downey and Baldur Stefansson in the 1970s. The oil is extracted from a group of cultivars of rapeseed variants from which low erucic acid rapeseed oil and low glucosinolate meal are obtained. The word "canola" was derived from "Canadian oil, low acid" in 1978.[1][2] The oil is also known as "LEAR" oil (for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed).[3]


File:Canola field temora nsw.jpg
Canola field in Temora, New South Wales
File:Canola bindi aus.jpg
Canola field near Bindi Bindi Western Australia
File:Field 150.jpg
Canola field near Red Deer, Alberta

Once considered a specialty crop in Canada, canola has become a major North American cash crop. Canada and the United States produce between 7 and 10 million metric tons (tonnes) of canola seed per year. Annual Canadian exports total 3 to 4 million metric tons of the seed, 700,000 metric tons of canola oil and 1 million metric tons of canola meal. The United States is a net consumer of canola oil. The major customers of canola seed are Japan, Mexico, China and Pakistan, while the bulk of canola oil and meal goes to the United States, with smaller amounts shipped to Taiwan, Mexico, China, and Europe. World production of rapeseed oil in the 2002–2003 season was about 14 million metric tons.[4]

Canola was developed through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, an oilseed plant with roots in ancient civilization. The word "rape" in rapeseed comes from the Latin word "rapum," meaning turnip. Turnip, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard and many other vegetables are related to the two canola species commonly grown: Brassica napus and Brassica rapa. The negative associations with the word "rape" resulted in the more marketing-friendly name "Canola". The change in name also serves to distinguish it from regular rapeseed oil, which has much higher erucic acid content.

File:CanolaOil bottle.jpg
Bottle of Canola Oil from Canada

Hundreds of years ago, Asians and Europeans used rapeseed oil in lamps. As time progressed, people employed it as a cooking oil and added it to foods. Its use was limited until the development of steam power, when machinists found rapeseed oil clung to water or steam-washed metal surfaces better than other lubricants. World War II saw high demand for the oil as a lubricant for the rapidly increasing number of steam engines in naval and merchant ships. When the war blocked European and Asian sources of rapeseed oil, a critical shortage developed and Canada began to expand its limited rapeseed production.

After the war, demand declined sharply and farmers began to look for other uses for the plant and its products. Edible rapeseed oil extracts were first put on the market in 1956–1957, but these suffered from several unacceptable characteristics. Rapeseed oil had a distinctive taste and a disagreeable greenish colour due to the presence of chlorophyll. It also contained a high concentration of erucic acid. Experiments on animals have pointed to the possibility that erucic acid, consumed in large quantities, may cause heart damage, though Indian researchers have published findings that call into question these conclusions and the implication that the consumption of mustard or rapeseed oil is dangerous.[5][6][7][8][9] Feed meal from the rapeseed plant was not particularly appealing to livestock, due to high levels of sharp-tasting compounds called glucosinolates.

Plant breeders in Canada, where rapeseed had been grown (mainly in Saskatchewan) since 1936, worked to improve the quality of the plant. In 1968 Dr Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba used selective breeding to develop a variety of rapeseed low in erucic acid. In 1974 another variety was produced low in both erucic acid and glucosinolates; it was named Canola, from Canadian oil, low acid.

A variety developed in 1998 is considered to be the most disease- and drought-resistant variety of Canola to date. This and other recent varieties have been produced by gene splicing techniques.

An Oregon State University researcher has determined that growing winter canola for hybrid seed appears possible in central Oregon, USA. Canola is the highest-producing oil-seed crop, but the state prohibits it from being grown in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties because it may attract bees away from specialty seed crops such as carrots which require bees for pollination.

Canola was originally a trademark but is now a generic term for this variety of oil. In Canada, an official definition of canola is codified in Canadian law.[10]

Health effects

Compound Family % of total
Oleic acid
Linoleic acid
ω-3[citation needed]
Saturated fatty acids

Canola oil has been claimed to be healthy due to its very low, or even zero, saturated fat and high—almost 60%—monounsaturated oil content and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids profile. The Canola Council of Canada states that it is completely safe and is the healthiest of all commonly used cooking oils.[12] Claims of safety are a bit questionable as almost all the testing on humans was based on trials that lasted an average of three weeks.[13] Traditional rapeseed oil contains higher amounts of erucic acid and glucosinolates than the commercially-sold consumer variety, both of which were deemed undesirable for human consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Erucic acid may be invovled with cancer and rancidity and glucosinolates may be goitrogenic.[citation needed] Canola oil contains only 0.5 to 1% erucic acid, well below the 2 percent limit set by the USDA.[14]

For many years rapeseed oil was used for human consumption in Canada despite the possible undesirable effects of glucosinolates and erucic acid, which were considered to be acceptable due the health benefits of the oil. Researchers were later able to develop "double-zero" varieties by the 1980s without significant levels of erucic acid or glucosinolates.[citation needed]

Nonetheless, controversy continued, with an article implicating Canola oil with glaucoma and Mad Cow Disease.[15] This article was taken up, condensed and widely circulated in a story via email. The industry and many health professionals condemn this as an email hoax making wholly unsubstantiated claims.[16]

Genetic modification

Genetically modified canola which is resistant to herbicide was first introduced to Canada in 1995. Today 80% of the acreage of canola is sown with genetically modified canola.[17]

Contamination of conventional canola crops from neighbouring genetically engineered fields has been a serious problem for Canadian canola farmers. It is very difficult for farmers to grow non-GM crops because of the frequent contamination.

The most high-profile case of contamination is Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, where Monsanto sued Percy Schmeiser for patent infringement because his field was contaminated with Monsanto's patented roundup ready canola. The supreme court ruled that Percy was in violation of Monsanto's patent because the crops were growing on his land, but he was not required to pay Monsanto damages since he did not benefit financially from its presence.[18] On March 19, 2008, Schmeiser and Monsanto Canada Inc came to an out of court settlement whereby Monsanto will pay for the clean-up costs of the contamination which came to a total of 660$ canadian. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if any further contamination occurred.[19]

Introduction of the genetically modified crop to Australia is generating considerable controversy.[20] Canola is Australia's third biggest crop, and is often used by wheat farmers as a break crop to improve soil quality. As of 2008 the only genetically modified crops in Australia were non-food crops: carnations and cotton. In 2003, Australia's gene technology regulator approved the release of canola altered to make it resistant to the herbicide Glufosinate ammonium.[21]

Other facts


  1. "What is canola?". A problem with weeds – the canola story. Biotechnology Australia (Australian Government). Retrieved 2007-10-20.
  2. Klahorst, Suanne J. (1998). "Dreaming of the Perfect Fat". Food Product Design (Virgo Publishing). Retrieved 2007-10-20.
  3. Fallon, Sally (2002). "The Great Con-ola". Weston A. Price Foundation. Retrieved 2008-04-09. "sale of LEAR oil seed"---Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, December 1986;63(12):1510.. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help); Check date values in: |year= (help)
  4. USDA. "Agricultural Statistics 2005" (pdf).
  5. Ghafoorunissa (1996). "Fats in Indian Diets and Their Nutritional and health Implications". Lipids. 31: S287–S291. doi:10.1007/BF02637093.
  6. Shenolikar, I (1980). "Fatty Acid Profile of Myocardial Lipid in Populations Consuming Different Dietary Fats". Lipids. 15(11): 980–982.
  7. Bellenand, JF; Baloutch, G; Ong, N; Lecerf, J (1980). "Effects of Coconut Oil on Heart Lipids and on Fatty Acid Utilization in Rapeseed Oil". Lipids. 15(11): 938–943.
  8. Achaya, KT (1987). "Fat Status of Indians - A Review". Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research. 46: 112–126.
  9. Indu, M; Ghafoorunissa (1992). "n-3 Fatty Acids in Indian Diets - Comparison of the Effects of Precursor (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) Vs Product (Long chain n-3 Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids)". Nutrition Research. 12: 569–582. doi:10.1016/S0271-5317(05)80027-2.
  10. "Canola Varieties". Canola Growers Manual. Canola Council of Canada. Retrieved 2008-04-12. This new improved quality in the seed, oil and meal needed a name to distinguish the commodity from common rapeseed. The term "canola" derived from "Canadian oil" was adopted. The term "canola" is not just a Canadian term and is no longer an industry trademark. Canola is defined in Canadian food acts, feed acts and the Seeds Act. The official definition of canola is: "An oil that must contain less than 2% erucic acid, and less than 30 micromoles of glucosinolates per gram of air-dried oil-free meal." Except for specialty fatty acid varieties like high erucic acid destined for specialty industrial markets, the varieties registered in Canada must be of canola quality.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "CANOLA OIL BENEFITS AND SIDE EFFECTS". Retrieved 2008-03-27.
  12. "Canola Oil: The truth!". Canola Council of Canada. Retrieved 2007-10-20. Canola oil is the healthiest of all commonly used cooking oils. It is lowest in saturated fat, high in cholesterol-lowering mono-unsaturated fat and the best source of omega-3 fats of all popular oils.
  13. Dockets:
  14. "Canola oil: Is it harmful to your health?". Ask a food and nutrition specialist. 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-20. Currently, canola oil contains 0.5 percent to 1 percent erucic acid — which is well below the 2 percent limit set by the Food and Drug Administration.
  15. Thomas, John (1996). "Blindness, Mad Cow Disease and Canola Oil". "This excerpt from John Thomas’ new book, Young Again: How to Reverse The Aging Process, published by Promotion Publishing, San Diego, has been edited especially for Perceptions." - web domain : ie the Country code top-level domain is Tonga. Retrieved 2007-10-20. Rape is the most toxic of all food-oil plants. ... Rape (canola) oil causes emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, irritability and blindness in animals—and humans. Rape oil was widely used in animal feeds in England and Europe between 1986 and 1991 when it was thrown out. You may remember reading about the cows, pigs and sheep that went blind, lost their minds, attacked people and had to be shot.
  16. Mikkleson, Barbara and David P. (2005). "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Canola Oil and Rape Seed". Snopes. Retrieved 2007-10-20. What we have here is a bit of truth about a product's family history worked into a hysterical screed against the product itself. There is no earthly reason to give any credence to this rumor — canola oil is not the horrifying product this widely-disseminated e-mail makes it out to be, nor has the FDA turned loose on the American public a health scourge worthy of being named one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse. and Edell, Dean (1999). "Canola Oil: Latest Internet Hoax Victim". Retrieved 2007-10-20. There are a lot of hoaxes and false health information being spread over the Internet that I've been collecting at HealthCentral in the Internet Hoax Watch Center. One of the latest to come to my attention is about canola oil, also known as rape seed oil. While canola oil has been shown to be beneficial, there has been a lot of bogus information showing up that defames the popular unsaturated product.
  17. "Canola Facts: Why Growers Choose GM Canola". Canola Quick Facts. Canola Council of Canada. Retrieved 2007-10-20. GM or transgenic canola varieties have been modified to be resistant to specific herbicides. They are called herbicide-resistant varieties. The plants are modified, but the oil is not modified. It is identical to canola oil from non-modified or conventional canola. Herbicide-resistant GM canola is grown on about 80% of the acres in western Canada. GM canola was first introduced in 1995.
  18. Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser [1]
  19. []
  20. for example Price, Libby (6 September 2005). "Network of concerned farmers demands tests from Bayer". ABC Rural: Victoria. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2007-10-10. and "Greenpeace has the last laugh on genetic grains talks". Rural news. Australian Broadcaasting Corporation. 13 March 2003. Retrieved 2007-10-20. also Cauchi, Stephen (25 October 2003). "GM: food for thought". Science article. The Age. Retrieved 2007-10-20.
  21. "GM canola gets the green light". National News. Sydney Morning Herald. 1 April 2003. Retrieved 2007-10-20.
  22. http://

External links


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