McCain says no to genetically modified potatoes

Environmentalists are applauding McCain Foods but a leading potato grower says the company has taken a step backward. McCain Foods has decided to stop processing genetically modified potatoes next year, because of pressure from consumers who fear damage to the environment and human health. Company chairman Harrison McCain says genetically modified material is good science, but very bad public relations.

You can't tell them apart in the field but consumers increasingly want to tell the difference between genetically modified foods and natural foods in the grocery store. McCain Foods chairman Harrison McCain says he's " in the business of giving customers what they want, not what [the company] thinks they should have."

So, with customers worried about eating genetically modified potatoes, Mc Cain says it will stop buying them next year. About one per cent of New Brunswick's potato crop is genetically modified, to resist the Colorado potato beetle. Ethel Duplessis is a potato farme near Fredericton: "We are growing the New Leaf Superior and the New Leaf Russet Burbank for seed. But if no one wants it, we won't bother to grow it." Duplessis and her husband Fred don't sell to McCain Foods. But Duplessis says the company's action will turn other buyers away from their genetically modified varieties: "These potatoes have been tested as stringently as any chemical or drug that has been released for use in Canada. So people don't seem to realize the stringent testing that has been done on them. So yes, it's just the perception. I think this is very safe. I would be very comfortable eating this myself of feeding it to my children."

However, environmentalists like Lia Daborn of the Conservation Council applaud McCain's decision: "It's important for the consumer to know what they're buying when they eat it. And at this point, we don't know enough about genetically modified food or foods that contain genetically modified organisms to be able to say whether they're safe or not."

McCain's decision now brings to Canada what has been a raging debate over genetically modified foods in Europe.