The chief executive and president of biotech giant Monsanto, Hendrik A Verfaillie, has resigned amid continuing consumer unease about genetically modified food.

Verfaillie, whose departure came as a surprise, rose up through the Monsanto ranks to become chief executive in February 2000. Monsanto is looking outside the company for Verfaillie’s successor. In the meantime, chairman Frank V AtLee is to serve as interim CEO.

“I want to be certain that shareowners of Monsanto understand that Hendrik’s resignation was mutual. Hendrik and the board agreed that the company’s performance during the past two years has been disappointing,” AtLee was quoted as saying on the company’s website. AtLee also said the board members continue to support Monsanto’s business strategy, and there was no impropriety involved in Verfaillie’s decision to resign.

In the first nine months of 2002, Monsanto suffered a US$1.75bn loss compared with a profit of $399m in the same period last year, reported BBC Online.