WestBred, LLC, of Butte is the agricultural research firm that is building new barley varieties from a base of research at MSU on barley beta-glucan fiber.
Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, which is not found in wheat, corn or rice. It is found to a lesser degree in oats. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim, that consuming beta-glucan fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease, for whole grain barley and barley products when they supply at least 0.75 grams of beta-glucan per serving. The new WestBred grain, named BGLife Barley (TM), supplies three grams of beta-glucan fiber per serving.
"The American population has a diabetic issue that needs to be addressed," said Ron Ueland, MSU graduate and WestBred president and general manager. "Shame on us for not doing this before." The FDA's approval says barley beta-glucan along with a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet "may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Over the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, MSU barley breeder Robert Eslick, MSU chemist Ken Goering and MSU animal and human nutritionists Walt and Rosemary Newman, worked on developing barleys high in beta-glucans. The MSU students working on the research went on to develop even higher beta-glucan barley strains, which now have been developed into BGLife (TM) Barley by a group of WestBred researchers. Those students, all MSU graduates, were: Dale Clark, Ph.D; Dan Biggerstaff, Ph.D; Kim Shantz; Christine Fastnaught, Ph.D, and Greg Fox, Ph.D.
Ueland said WestBred now has cereal products for sale on the Web, on-going sales of BGLife Barley to Japan, and letters of intent from other buyers.
Katie Bark, a dietitian with the Montana Office of Public Instruction Team Nutrition program housed on the MSU campus, asked Ueland during the meeting if she could meet with WestBred staff to figure out how to get Montana-grown BGLife Barley into the Montana school system. Barley can be used not only in traditional cereals, baked goods and soups, but also as an extender for ground beef or other meat products.
About 10,000 acres of BGLife Barley are growing in Montana and another 10,000 acres elsewhere, but Ueland said the company is increasing the seed rapidly, with some generations being grown off-season in Arizona.
Dale Clark, WestBred's director of research said the grain grows well in the "dry West," particularly in Montana. Yields of high beta-glucan barley are about 10 percent less in volume than other barleys because it is hull-less.
Ueland said growers will be compensated for that difference, and that WestBred knows that it will need to pay contract growers competitive prices "and then some."
Several organizations have recently featured the health benefits of barley in their publications. The March, 2008 Journal of the American Dietetic Association featured a barley foods fact sheet titled "Barley: A healthy heart solution." The January/February, 2008 issue of "Psychology Today" featured an article by Amy Maxmen that listed the heart, diabetes and obesity benefits of barley while adding, "In a study, people who breakfasted on barley performed better on memory and concentration tests than those who ate other whole grains like oats and wheat--even 10 hours into the day."
More information about BGLife Barley and products are available on the Web-site www.bglifebarley.com.
"Look for beta-glucan soluble fiber. That's the sound bite," Ueland said.