Plano, Texas - In a move that has angered farm groups but pleased some environmentalists, giant snack maker Frito-lay,Inc. is telling its suppliers not to use genetically altered corn.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which says biotechnology can produce larger and more nutritious crops, accused Frito-Lay of caving in to anti-biotech activists.
"People like Frito-lay are responding to small splinter groups out of fear they're going to be boycotted," said Joseph Fields, a spokesman for the farm group. "We feel the companies are overreacting."
Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists applauded the decision, disclosed last week by Plano-based Frito-Lay, the leading U.S. maker of salty snacks. Greenpeace had lobbied Frito-Lay's parent company, PepsiCo., to stop using biotech crops in its products.
"Frito-Lay is about two-thirds of PepsiCo's sales. They realize the handwriting is on the wall and that people don't want to eat GMOs (genetically modified organisms)," said Charles Margulis of Greenpeace.
Last weekend in Montreal, U.N. talks finally produced complex rules governing trade in genetically engineered products, including language letting a country ban imports of a genetically modified product if it feels there is not enough scientific evidence showing the product is safe.
A spokeswoman for Frito-lay said the company was acting in response to consumers' worries, and not to protests by Greenpeace and other groups.
Frito-Lay spokeswoman Lynn Markley noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that biotech foods are safe to eat, "but we're a consumer products company. There is some consumer concern out there. We felt at this time it's appropriate to ask our growers not to sell us genetically altered corn."
She added the Montreal agreement would have no impact on its policy.
The anti-biotech edict is contained in contracts Frito-Lay is currently sending to hundreds of its farmers. Last year, the company bought 1.2 billion pounds of corn, a tiny fraction of the U.S. crop, for products such as Doritos, Fritos and Tostitos chips.
Scientists create biotech crops by splicing the genes of plants and inserting genetic material from other organisms to make the original bigger, hardier or tastier.
Monsanto Co. makes seeds that survive the company's Roundup herbicide, meaning farmers can freely spray their fields knowing they'll kill weeds but not the crop. Biotech corn, called Bt corn, is designed to produce a natural pesticide that kills the European corn borer.
Farm groups argue that genetically altered crops use less pesticide. Critics say any such benefit would e short-lived - that weekds and pests would adapt, in the same way that they develop resistance to herbicides and pesticides, and would require stronger and more environmentally dangerous weapons to kill them.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than half of the soybeans and cotton and about one-third of the corn grown in the United Sates last year used gene-spliced seeds. Potatoes and tomatoes are also grown the same way.
Frito-Lay's action follows last summer's announcement by Gerber and Heinz that they would stop using genetically modified ingredients in baby food even though they believe the ingredients are safe.
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Last Updated on 2/14/00
By Karen Lutz