Cottonseed safe for people to eat gets the green light from the USDA

HILLSBORO, Ala. -- You wear it, you sleep with it, you even stick it in your ear. But now, you may be able to eat it.

The US Department of Agriculture recently gave researchers at Texas A&M their stamp of approval for a new type of cottonseed -- that is safe for humans to eat.

White puffs of cotton may not look appetizing, but in the near future what's inside them may be on the plates of millions who aren't getting the right amount of nutrition around the globe.

"You're talking about a surplus of protein source," said Roger Felkins, manager and part owner of Hillsboro Gin.

After 23 years of research, Professor Keerti Rathore has achieved a cotton plant without the toxin gossypol in its seeds.

Hillsboro gin is set to produce 21 to 23 thousand bales of cotton this year.

Their seeds go to feed dairy cows but this new genetically modified crop could one day feed animals with simpler digestive systems like chickens, fish, pigs, and people.

While the USDA has given it the green light, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve it.

The regulations will probably come after the cotton seed is initially sold so farmers will get a big boost in the arm if they can grow this and we can handle it here," Felkins said.

If the new genetically modified seed does come to market, ginners will have to adjust their infrastructure, separating these seeds from their new counterpart.

"That could pose some storage issues and some cleanout issue but I think we're prepared to meet most of them," Felkins said.

If everything lines up, Felkins sees open doors for Alabama cotton farmers.

"If you add the low ultra-gossypol cottonseed, then now you're competing with the soybean market. If you go to the fourth area of edible seed, the cottonseed may be more valuable or as valuable as the linen," explained Felkins.

The cotton seeds could someday take the form of milk, nut butter, flour, and protein bars to name a few.

The lead researcher said after roasting some, they tasted like chickpeas and could be made into a "tasty hummus."

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