McDonald's, Burger King, Frito-Lay, and Proctor & Gamble Want Genetically Engineered-Free Potatoes
Minneapolis - The decision by major US fast food restaurants and food companies to source non-genetically engineered potatoes sends a clear message to farmers that the markets for genetically engineered crops are closing. The revelation was reported in today's Wall Street Journal, based on initial background research by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
McDonald's and Burger King are telling their potato suppliers that they do not want genetically engineered (GE) potatoes. McDonald's hopes to go entirely GE-free by the fall of 2000 with regards to potatoes used in its popular french fries. GE potatoes are designed to combat the potato beetle by splicing the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) into every cell.
"Biotech seed companies have been telling farmers to not worry about the closing of international markets to genetically engineered crops, and that GE crops can be sold in the US," says Gabriela Flora, IATP Program Associate on Agriculture Biotechnologies. "Farmers have been left in the dark about the reality of US markets. Deciding to plant GE seeds is a big gamble for farmers at a time when commodity prices are at record lows."
McDonald's and Burger King are the nation's first major chain restaurants to start sourcing GE-free crops for their foods. As reported in today's Wall Street Journal, Frito-Lay and Procter & Gamble are also trying to source GE-free potatoes. Earlier this year, Frito-Lay announced that it was asking its contract farmers to grow GE-free corn.
"The fact that major restaurant chains and food processors are removing genetically engineered ingredients from their foods is very significant for farmers who are planting genetically engineered crops this year," says Flora. "It sends a clear message to farmers that food companies are quietly moving away from GE crops."
IATP discovered McDonald's and Burger King's efforts to source GE potatoes after hearing from farmers and one of the nation's largest potato supplier - R.D. Offutt, Inc - that the fast food giants were seeking GE-free potatoes.
Companies trying to source GE-free potatoes are following a pattern of US food companies taking steps to go GE-free. Gerber and Heinz have gone GE-free in producing their baby food. The baby formula company, Enfamil, is going GE-free. Food companies, supermarkets and restaurants throughout Europe have gone GE-free and placed added pressure on US companies and farmers who wish to export. Japan stated earlier this week that it will begin screening food coming into the country to determine whether it is genetically engineered.
According to recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, planting of US genetically engineered crops is declining. The USDA estimates that plantings of engineered Bt corn will decline by 25 percent, and plantings of GE Roundup Ready soybeans will decline by 9 percent.
IATP has been closely monitoring the impacts of genetically engineered crops on agriculture in the US and around the world. IATP has been regularly meeting with farmers, and monitoring suppliers and agribusiness companies on this issue.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works to create environmentally and economically sustainable rural communities and regions through sound agriculture and trade policy. IATP is active in both domestic and international policymaking through monitoring, analysis and research, education and outreach, and information systems management.
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Last Updated on 5/4/00
By Karen Lutz Benbrook