The Canadian Press
CHARLOTTETOWN (CP) - The manager of the Prince Edward Island potato board is disappointed that McCain Foods has decided to stop processing genetically modified potatoes in the new year.
Ivan Noonan said Monday it's unfortunate that the views of a few can have such an impact. McCain has waded into the explosive debate over so-called "Frankenstein foods" by refusing to accept genetically engineered potatoes for processing.
Starting next year, the Florenceville, N.B.,-based company will no longer buy genetically altered potatoes grown by farmers in New Brunswick and the rest of the country.
McCain chairman Harrison McCain said the decision was made after months of pressure from consumers who fear genetic tampering could damage the environment and human health.
Noonan called the move fear-mongering by opponents of such technology, adding that the amount of genetically modified potatoes on the Island was limited this year.
But with viruses and other pests like the Colorado potato beetle attacking the crop, he said growers could have used the technology to protect plants.
Said McCain: "We think genetically modified material is very good science (but) at the moment, very bad public relations.
"We've got too many people worried about eating the product and we're in the business of giving our customers what they want, not what we think they should have.
"We're going to drop that until the smoke clears away and until most people are at least reasonably satisfied that that's the right thing to do."
The move has also angered some New Brunswick potato farmers, who have been growing potatoes genetically altered to produce a protein that acts as a natural insecticide to the Colorado potato beetle, but does not harm animals or humans.
"It's not like we have something that has a disease," said Patton MacDonald, executive director of the New Brunswick Potato Agency.
"There's nothing wrong with it."
MacDonald said most farmers have put their trust in the biotechnology sector.
Less than one per cent of the crops produced for consumption in New Brunswick in 1999 were genetically modified, according to the provincial Agriculture Department.
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Last Updated on 11/29/99
By Karen Lutz