In 1995, Monsanto completed U.S. regulatory authorizations for NewLeaf™ potato, a Russet Burbank potato improved using biotechnology to provide protection from the Colorado potato beetle. Canadian authorization was completed in 1996. The NewLeaf™ potato used naturally-occurring bacteria found in the soil known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to provide in-plant protection from the yield-robbing Colorado potato beetle.
In the following years, other Bt varieties -including the NewLeaf™ Atlantic and the NewLeaf™ Superior were also fully approved and introduced in the U.S. and Canada. All these Bt varieties provided a 40% average reduction in insecticide use, with the consequential benefit for growers and the environment.
In 1998 and 1999, Monsanto received full regulatory authorization in the U.S. and Canada for additional genetically modified potatoes: the NewLeaf™ Plus for Russet Burbank and the NewLeaf™ Y for the Russet Burbank and the Shepody varieties. These new products provided crops resistance to the potato leafroll virus and the Y virus, respectively, in addition to insect protection. These new technologies also offered growers the potential to reduce on average 80% of the use of insecticides needed to grow these crops.
In 2001, Monsanto made the decision to focus its biotechnology program on four key row crops: corn, soy, wheat and cotton. Ongoing activities involving several other crops, including potatoes, were scaled back. Sales and marketing of the NewLeaf™ potato varieties were suspended, but the products remain fully approved in the United States and Canada.
Potatoes are an important crop and there may be a day in the future when Monsanto re-enters the potato business. Market demand will be one factor in that decision.