Is Walkers Sunseed Oil a GM product?

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richardland | 22:10 Sat 08th Jul 2006 | Science
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I noticed that Walkers crisps are now cooked in Sunseed Oil which is a trade marked name. Does this mean that the 'special' sunflower oil is from genetically modified plants?


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We did some research about this at the university a year or so ago. Despite our best efforts, both direct and indirect approaches to Walker's drew a blank. They refused to admit or deny that the oil was GM derived.

Most controversy in the world has arisen over GM modified Rapeseed oil rather than GM Sunflower oil. This may be one of the reasons why obtaining a definitive answer is so difficult. You also need to remember that much of the Sunseed oil production in the world is grown for the exclusive use of companies such as Walkers and many of them run their own farms.

I can only suggest you take a loook at the following websites and come to your own conclusions.
My apologies. In the first link, you need to select "Walker's Crisps" from the list on the left-hand side of the page.
Hmmm...That's strange, Prof, since this Walker's website states categorically that their Sunseed Oil contains no GM product. I don't know what's changed about the oil, but I find that a former favourite of mine, 'Heinz Tomato Ketchup Flavour', now tastes foul by comparison - so much so that I wonder that Heinz hasn't withdrawn their licence.
Thanks heathfield.

I've got no idea if that website was available when the research was done at the uni. It seems a bit strange to me how it was ignored if it was available. It's even more odd that Walkers were not prepared to comment if the information was in the public domain.

You've stirred my curiosity now, so I think I'll look into this tomorrow.

You're absolutely right about the taste difference. Take a look at: vourites__Review_5569297

I've not bought a packet of Walkers cheese and onion crisps since.

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Thanks for those rather interesting answers. Heathfield could Walkers be skirting the issue by saying that Sunseed oil contails no GM products when in fact the oil contains no genetic material at all? Nor do any refined oils.
It's all very curious. Note that there is a big difference between 'sunseed' and 'SunSeed(TM)'. The first is a common term for oil produced from sunflower seeds, but what's the second? According to Walkers, its oil from a variety of sunflower that they helped develop. And where's the history behind that development? An entry in Google for 'sunseed(tm)' - (Google doesn't recognise any caps) - simply brings up references to Walkers crisps.
It's true that refining strips out nearly all of the genes and DNA - has this been done? Maybe the uni has a department, (or 'knows a man'), that could find out!
As to the Ciao website...I am deeply suspicious of many of the supportive comments about the new Walkers crips. Call me an old cynic, but there is an air about them that is typical of companies who post comments endorsing their own products.
Good luck with your researches, prof, and do let us all know the outcome,
I've had a quick look into this at the uni here this morning and I've found some curious anomalies in the information available for the press and public.

I'm borrowing a tenacious Phd student this afternoon to investigate further. I'm confident she will get to the bottom of this, but it may take a day or two.

I'll keep you posted.
I'm pretty confident that sunseed oil is not a GM crop: 9/9-1999/ag-09-30-99-02.txt

Do a find for sunseed in the above article and it is clearly states that sunseed is offered as a non-gm crop alternative to vegetable oil.

From what I can ascertain - and the evidence is at best sketchy - sunseed oil has been selectively bred from sunflowers to be low in saturated fat rather than genetically modified. I doubt that the trademark would be to distingish a GM sunseed oil to a non-gm oil.
Hi there Dawkins - the 'sunseed oil' mentioned in your link is the common industry name for oil derived from sunflower seeds in general. 'SunSeed(TM) oil' (Note the capital letters) is a specific oil product used by Walkers. What we're all interested in is - what is it precisely? (Can't wait, Prof !)
Yes HF. Well I say yes but obviously I mean no. Sunseed(TM) or however you want to put it is Pepsico's attempt to claim the name "Sunseed"as a brand they are trying to register it in the UK so nobody else can use it although I can't see that happening.. "sunseed oil" is not sunflower oil, it is sunseed oil. It was suggested to them by Cargill:,,176073 1,00.html

Who operate sunseed oil facilities globally:

In summary, as far as I can tell sunseed is not a GM crop.


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Wow, this seems like a bit of a hornets nest. I look forward to hearing your findings Prof. Thank you all for your input.
You can see why confusion reigns on this subject ! The name 'Sunseed' is given to an f1 hybrid variety of sunflower, (Helianthus Annuus 'ha') I don't know how long it's been around, but I've come across reference to someone growing it back in 1994. In the Ukraine it's an early sunflower crop. See details on the plant here There should be more data on the Territorial Seed Company website, but for some reason their site is unobtainable.
So what the heck are Walkers up to, claiming they've spent five years helping develop 'SunSeed(TM)' oil, and registering it with a trademark? What have they done with the flower and/or the oil to be permitted to so register it. Why are they so coy about it?
I feel we must be told!
Here�s some of the facts we�ve established so far:

Conventional Sunseed oil (no TM) is basically just another name for standard sunflower oil. The product is known as linoleic sunflower oil and contains around 20% of monounsaturated fat, 69% of polyunsaturated fat and 11% saturated fat. It�s manufactured throughout the world in countries as diverse as the Ukraine, South Africa and the biggest producer, Argentina. The seeds used to manufacture the oil are not of any specific variety of sunflower and because of this, some conventional sunflower oil production is of GM origin. Cargill is a major manufacturer.

The SunSeed � oil used by Walkers contains what is known as high oleic Sunflower oil. This differs from linoleic sunflower oil as it contains approximately 80% of monounsaturated fat, 10% of polyunsaturated fat and 10% of saturated fat. This is a premium oil and is both expensive to produce and source. Now the theory is that high oleic oils are healthier as they contain higher levels of monounsaturated fat (>80%). However, dieticians are not entirely convinced over this, as the total fat content in products such as crisps has not altered significantly.

The SunSeed � oil used by Walkers is claimed to be sourced entirely from France on one of their websites although our sources in the Ukraine tell us that the hybrids used are grown and processed there. Nevertheless, we have established that the oil orginates from specific naturally bred sunflower F1 hybrids. These varieties produce larger seeds with distinctive tasting oil. Under normal circumstances, it is possible to retain seeds from part of one year�s crop of sunflower seeds and sow the seeds the following year. This is not possible with F1 hybrids and new seeds have to be purchased each year. This adds to the production cost. I can confirm that one of the hybrid varieties used is indeed Sunflower �Sunseed�. The much-publicised apparent rarity of the seeds concerned is a debatable issue given the quantity of them needed annually.

There is no evidence to suggest that SunsSeed� oil is of GM or biotechnological origin. However, we did uncover some evidence that the SunSeed� oil used by Walkers and an associated company called Frito-Lay was originally a blend of non-GM sunflower oil combined with non-GM vegetable oil. This would account for the Trademark application. However, searches of the USA, EU, and UK trademark and Patent databases have drawn a blank regarding SunSeed� oil. Details of pending trademarks and pending patents are readily available from the databases concerned and elsewhere. We found nothing pending with the name SunSeed� in the title. Further enquiries in the USA, Canada and the UK by telephone were also fruitless.

It is feasible that Walkers are attempting to Trademark the oil from these specific F1 hybrids. I realise that this seems initially unlikely and pointless, but from the information we�ve received from the various patent and trademark offices mentioned, it would seem it would seem perfectly acceptable to do so.

The UK Food Standards Agency is currently evaluating the health impact of using high oleic sunflower oil for frying crisps. Results from this study are due to be published in 2008.

Much commercial secrecy is attached to all of this, which is probably why Walkers and the parent company have never been very forthcoming. All the same, we�ve got some ideas up our sleeves and delving into this further.
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Thanks Prof for all your (and your colleagues) efforts in this. I appreciate what you say about commercial secrecy but when you are dealing with a food stuff which I would think the vast majority of people in Britain eats at one time or another that this sort of information would be more readily available.

If Walkers have nothing to hide, why are they acting as if they have!

I look forward to hearing any new developments
Interesting that you should come up with Frito-Lay...But I've found that the UK Patents Office does have a reference to 'SunSeed' under a 'new' trademark listing accorded to Frito-Lay last October. See here

Reading the Patent Class notes, it would appear that Walkers are perhaps using the old trick of adding ingredients to the oil in order to have a recipe they can own and trademark.

Frito-Lay also uses Olestra in some of its snack products.This is the synthetic fat substitute made by Proctor and Gamble that causes diarrhea and other adverse reactions.(US Court cases pending). More on that

Will Walkers ever come clean, one asks?
Thanks both.

As usual in matters like this, the business interests come first before they consider the wellbeing of the consumer.

My opinion was sought recently regarding certain aspects of a pathogen outbreak at a certain chocolate manufacturing facility - I'm a biochemist not a microbiologist. Following the outbreak, it was evident from reading the letters columns in newspapers and watching the news on TV, that the general public were horrified that the company took months to report the matter to the Foods Standards Agency in order for the affected products to be recalled.

Returning to the matter to hand, the thought had occurred to me that Walker's might be hiding behind a wall of so-called commercial secrecy. We definitely need more openness on this matter.

Looking on the bright side and in the long-term, I think the healthy eating lobby might well put sufficient pressure on Walkers et al in order to force them to reveal what all consumers are entitled to know. It couldn't happen soon enough for me.

I just found out that Adele did come across the patent cited but did not mention it as there is no conclusive evidence that the oil was being used for the purpose we're looking for. Despite the fact that Frito-Lay and Walker's are owned by Pepsico, there is no commercial record of the one company supplying the other.

Now I know that many would say that it's too much of a coincidence for internal trade not to occur here, but the problem is we have no evidence of such activity. You're suggestion on this heathfield, cannot be dismissed and you may have hit the nail on the head.

Olestra is a very controversial substance.

I intend finding out more about that patent tomorrow.
It now seems that Frito-Lay does supply Walker's with frying oils.

In itself, this should be of no significance as internal trade between companies owned by one parent company, is not unusual. It makes economic sense for them to trade in this way as profits are maximised and they are cutting out the middleman.

Still working on that patent.

Keep at it, Prof. I can't get over the flaming cheek of Frito-Lay in applying for 'SunSeed' as a trademark, irrespective of the capital letters. An application can even be rejected on the grounds of identical phonetics, after all. And as you'll be aware, 'sunseed' and 'sunseed oil' are common terms in the world of commerce. I thought one couldn't trademark common knowledge words in the UK, unless they're designed in such a way as to be a logo, which it isn't on the crisp packets. I really think the Patents Office should have rejected their application straight away. (I'd also be surprised if whoever developed the sunseed hybrid hasn't registered the name).

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