US Consumer Pressure Forces McDonald's & Other Fast
Food Chains to Ban GE Potatoes

Web Note: The Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth,
Greenpeace, the Center for Food Safety, and our other allies have been
pressuring 15 of America's largest food corporations, the "Frankenfoods
15," to ban GE ingredients in their company products for the past six
months. In July 1999 Gerber's and Heinz banned GE ingredients in their baby
foods. Heinz has subsequently informed the OCA that its tomatoes are "GE
free." In February Frito-Lay announced that 95% of its corn for corn chips
was GE free. Natural food grocery chains and food coops are steadily moving
to get Gene altered foods and ingredients off their shelves. And now the
Wall Street Journal has revealed the fact that three of our F15 targets,
Frito-Lay, Procter and Gamble McDonald's--and other fast-food chains--are
quietly getting GE potatoes out of their product lines and off their
restaurant menus. This should inspire us all to step up the pressure.

By Scott Kilman.

Monsanto Co.'s genetically modified potato is falling victim to the
consumer backlash over crop biotechnology.

Fast-food chains such as McDonald's Corp. are quietly telling their
french-fry suppliers to stop using the potato from Monsanto, the only
biotechnology concern to commercialize a genetically modified spud.
So many food concerns are shrinking from the Monsanto potato that J.R.
Simplot Co., a major supplier of french fries to McDonald's, is
instructing its farmers to stop growing it.

"Virtually all the [fast food] chains have told us they prefer to take
nongenetically modified potatoes," said Fred Zerza, spokesman for
closely held J.R. Simplot, headquartered in Boise, Idaho.

Monsanto, the St. Louis agricultural unit of Pharmacia Corp., calls its
potato "NewLeaf." It is the latest and smallest crop to feel the sting
of a growing antibiotechnology campaign in the U.S. and abroad.
Critics have raised enough questions about the environmental and
nutritional safety of crop biotechnology that surveys show many U.S.
consumers want labels on groceries containing genetically modified
ingredients, a move the food industry resists.

American farmers, worried by the controversy, are retreating from the
genetically modified seed they raced to embrace in the late 1990s. Such
modified plants are easier to grow than their conventional cousins; they
make their own insecticides and tolerate exposure to potent weedkillers.
But government and industry surveys show that U.S. farmers plan to grow
millions fewer acres of genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton
than they did last year.
Potato farmers quickly accepted Monsanto's genetically modified version
when it was introduced four years ago. Equipped with a gene from a
micro-organism, the NewLeaf plant makes a toxin that repels a major pest
called the Colorado Potato Beetle, greatly reducing the need for
expensive chemical sprays.
U.S. farmers planted about 50,000 acres of NewLeaf potatoes last year,
up from 10,000 acres in 1996. Total U.S. potato production last year was
about a million acres.

Now, with food companies shrinking from the genetically modified potato,
NewLeaf acreage will likely drop significantly this year.
Fargo, N.D., farmer Ronald Offutt, one of the nation's largest producers
of potatoes, said he won't raise any genetically modified spuds this
year. Last year, about 20% of the potatoes grown by his company, R.D.
Offutt Co., were genetically engineered.

Mr. Offutt said he decided to eliminate the NewLeaf potato after
Cincinnati consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. asked how long
it would take him to supply the company with only conventional potatoes.
Mr. Offutt supplies potato flakes for making P&G's Pringles chips.
P&G declined to comment.

Frito-Lay Co. said yesterday that it is asking its farmers not to grow
genetically-modified potatoes this year. Frito-Lay makes potato-chip
brands Lay's and Ruffles.

Frito-Lay, a Plano, Texas, unit of soft drink giant PepsiCo Inc., told
its corn farmers this past winter to stop growing genetically modified
varieties for use in its snack products.

Crop biotechnology is a delicate issue for food companies. Most
executives believe the technology is safe but many customers are turned
off by the idea of genetic manipulation.

NewLeaf potatoes are being sacrificed in large part because they're the
easiest genetically modified crop to remove: the vast majority of spuds
grown last year were conventional. It's far harder for the food industry
to reject genetically modified soybeans, for example, because they
represent half of the U.S. crop and are used to make many more food

McDonald's declined to talk about its potato policy. A spokesman said
the company doesn't comment on its procurement practices.
The Burger King unit of London's Diageo PLC said suppliers have assured
it that the french fries it sells aren't made from genetically modified

Hardee's, a fast food chain of CKE Restaurants Inc., said it hasn't
asked suppliers to stop using genetically modified potatoes. But the
chain is considering whether to change its french-fry policy.

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