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Monsanto enters into market for fresh sweet corn [Updated]

August 5, 2011 |  8:18 am

Corn Monsanto Co. is expanding its reach -– into the grocery store's produce aisle.

The company said it plans to launch this fall a genetically modified sweet corn seed for farmers to grow. The corn, once ripe, would be harvested and then be carried in grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Though biotech sweet corn is already sold in many grocery stores in California and across the country, the news marks the first time the St. Louis-based biotech giant has rolled out a product for a consumer-oriented food that has been genetically altered to let farmers spray their fields with Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

Like farmers who grow corn for animal feed or fuel, the farmers who raise sweet corn are interested in  using Monsanto’s glyphosate to battle weeds and insects, said Consuelo Madere, the company’s vice president of its global vegetable business.

This so-called “triple-stack” sweet corn -– meaning the hybrid has genetic modifications that have three additional traits that allow it resistance to insects and the Roundup herbicide –- is the company’s first foray into the relatively small market for this sort of produce. (Farmers plant about 250,000 acres of sweet corn for human consumption in the U.S., according to analysts and company officials. Corn raised to be turned into sugar, oil, animal feed or used as fibers makes up 92.3 million acres in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

Madere said the company’s launch would be modest, with the crop being grown in the Southeastern portions of the U.S.

[Updated at 9:15 a.m.: The corn will also be grown in the Northeastern U.S., Madere said.]

Monsanto is in discussions with companies that would can or freeze the corn, she said.

Madere said other companies, in particular rival Syngenta AG, have already jumped into the market for genetically altered vegetables. Given that, Madere said that Monsanto did not expect much consumer outcry.

The company, however, will not use the Monsanto brand to advertise the new line of sweet corn.

“We think it is a good product. It’s up to us to make sure we help tell people about the benefits,” Madere said. Besides, “given how sweet corn is normally sold -– by the ear, in larger bins in produce sections of the market –- it's not really something that can be easily branded.”

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--P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A California cornfield. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

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