Magazine article World Watch

Monsanto Drops Its Biotech Potato. (Environmental Intelligence)

Magazine article World Watch

Monsanto Drops Its Biotech Potato. (Environmental Intelligence)

Article excerpt

In the spring of 2UUI, Monsanto--one of the world's largest biotech companies--surprised farmers, environmentalists, and consumers by dropping its Newleaf potato from U.S. and Canadian markets after fast-food giant McDonald's cut orders of the genetically modified (GM) spuds.

The Newleaf potato, Monsanto's first genetically modified product, was introduced six years ago to help farmers fight against the Colorado potato beetle--the predominant insect pest of potatoes in the United States. The potato's genes were spliced with a bacterium known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a natural insecticide that repels and kills the beetles. However, environmentalists warn that because the plant continuously produces the Bt toxin from every cell, it will significantly increase insect exposure to the bacterium and subsequently speed the rate at which insects develop resistance to the insecticide.

Although Monsanto's potato never captured more than 5 percent of the potato-seed market, by 1999 U.S. farmers had planted about 50,000 acres of Newleaf, up from 10,000 acres in 1996. But in 2000, output fell about 80 percent after McDonald's and other big potato purchasers such as Burger King, McCain Foods, and Frito-Lay decided to stop selling products made from biotech potatoes. Of the more than 2.2 million tons of potatoes grown annually in the United States, 49 percent are made into French fries and 11 percent are sold as potato chips (the potato is the most commonly consumed vegetable in the United States). …

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