Monsanto launching its first biotech sweet corn

Thu Aug 4, 2011 1:55pm EDT

* Sweet corn launch this fall, first for Monsanto

* More biotech vegetables in pipeline

* Launch seen small, total U.S. acreage about 250,000

By Carey Gillam

ST. LOUIS, Mo., Aug 4 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co. (MON.N) is preparing to launch a genetically altered sweet corn, marking the global seed company's first commercial combination of its biotechnology with a consumer-oriented vegetable product.

The sweet corn seed, which will be available to farmers this fall, has been genetically altered to tolerate treatment of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, and to fight off insects that might attack the plants, said Consuelo Madere, Monsanto vice president of the company's global vegetable business.

The "triple-stack" sweet corn is aimed at the fresh market, a relatively small market sector with total U.S. plantings of about 250,000 acres, said Madere. She declined to say how large of a launch the company was making, only to say it would be "very, very small."

Though this is Monsanto's first biotech vegetable launch, Madere said other companies have already brought genetically altered vegetables to market and she did not anticipate significant consumer backlash.

"This is our first launch. We think it is a good product and we'll work to make sure we educate folks to the benefits," she said.

Monsanto's vegetable unit is anchored by Seminis, which it acquired in 2005, and is distinct from Monsanto's mammoth seed business for field crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. For the most recent quarter, vegetable seed sales totaled $216 million out of more than $2.6 billion in total seed and genomic sales.

Since buying Seminis, Monsanto has been expanding its holdings in the vegetable seed arena. Still, while Monsanto is known for its expertise in plant biotechnology, the vegetable unit has only a few genetically altered products in its pipeline because non-biotech breeding techniques are more cost-effective than biotech for vegetable seeds, said Madere. (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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