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Genetically modified wheat developed by Monsanto was not supposed to make it to market. However, it is readily sprouting on a farm in Oregon. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that the genetically engineered wheat had not been approved for either consumption or sale.
Monsanto faced stiff opposition when first introducing GMO wheat and opted against putting it on store shelves. That was then; this is now. Opposition to genetically modified crops has not ebbed, it has increased substantially. The most recent known field test on GMO wheat was in 2005.
A farmer reportedly stumbled upon the unharvested wheat while dousing his field with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. He called the USDA once he realized that some of the wheat plants were resistant to the chemical. How the Oregon genetically engineered wheat found its way into the soil remains a mystery. The GE wheat is believed to be part of an old Monsanto field test.
Oregon Senator Roy Wyden had this to say about the genetically modified wheat in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“The discovery of non-harvested, GE [genetically engineered] wheat should not be used by America’s trading partners to erect spurious, protectionist trade barriers … in the absence of scientific evidence indicating that Oregon exports contain this strain of wheat. The USDA could co-ordinate closely with the US Trade Representative and the Department of State, among others, to provide assurance and certainty to global wheat markets.”
Tom Vilsack was nominated to the USDA top spot in 2009 by President Barack Obama. The Organic Consumers Association staunchly opposed the nomination due to Vilsack’s stance on environmental reforms and energy. The association stated that the USDA nominee repeatedly showed a preference for genetically modified crops and the industrial farms. In 2005, while serving as Iowa’s governor, Tom Vilsack originated a seed pre-emption bill. The law blocked municipalities from regulating where GMO crops could be planted. The USDA chief also founded the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership. Before going out of business, ProdiGene, a biotech company that produced GMO corn in 2002, was given a $6 million investment from Vilsack’s partnership.
Oregon wheat exports comprise approximately $500 million of the overall exports from the state. Senator Roy Wyden is concerned that the GE wheat could put the lucrative Oregon crop in jeopardy. According to USDA representatives, a crew of 15 workers from the biotechnology investigative and enforcement unit are now at the site of the GE wheat and collecting “evidence and information.” The federal agency claims that they have no indications that genetically engineered wheat actually made it into the commerce realm.
The South Korea Ministry of Food and Drugs plans on testing all US wheat shipments. A statement from the agency reads:
“Although our preliminary test results show no genetically modified wheat was found, we are aiming to test all samples of wheat and flour imported from the United States.”
Due to the discovery of the GE wheat, buyers from both Europe and Asia have now shied away from all American wheat. Health officials from the European Union recently stated that it could be several weeks before a genetically engineered wheat testing method is validated. Monsanto reportedly gave the European Union Joint Research Center details about a testing method to utilize on incoming wheat shipments.
Agricultural experts are predicting nearly $9 billion could be at risk if it is not proven that the GMO wheat was contained to just a small patch of Oregon soil. Once the GE wheat discovery went viral, prices fell by 8.25 cents to 6.945 cents per bushel. Monsanto claims not to know how the genetically-engineered herbicide-resistant wheat strain still existed on the Oregon farm. The biotech giant maintains they are “mystified” about the sprouting GMO crop. Between 1998 and 2004, Monsanto tested GMO crops in 17 different states. The company maintains it destroyed all of the GMO wheat when the project concluded.
Monsanto also claims that the company did not ever grow any of their genetically engineered wheat on the Oregon farm. If the company is telling the truth about the planting locations, did the GE wheat seeds travel out of the office undetected in someone’s pockets?
A statement about the GE wheat issued by Monsanto reads:
“The company’s internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as reasonable explanations behind this reported detection. This report is unusual since our program was discontinued nine years ago, and this is the only report after more than 500 million acres [200 million hectare] of wheat have been grown.”
The biotech company also claims that even if genetically modified wheat seeds had been left in the soil, they could not have survived more than two years. Monsanto also noted in the statement that 99 percent of wheat pollen deposits only travel within 10 meters of a plant, so cross-state pollination was not possible.
According to a Bloomberg report, Monsanto began testing GMO wheat once again in 2011.The report cites a Virginia Tech database the USDA administers. If the claims are accurate, the biotech company planted 150 acres of genetically engineered wheat in Hawaii just two years ago. Reports have also surfaced indicating that Monsanto planted GMO wheat on 300 acres in North Dakota last year. Representatives from the biotech company told Bloomberg that the new trials are from an “entirely different event.”
A representative from Monsanto also added:
“The Roundup Ready wheat project that is the subject of the USDA report was previously discontinued.”
When the 2005 GE wheat project was abandoned, before the USDA ruled on commerce approval, farmers voiced concerns that a GMO wheat strain would harm exports. The dip in the wheat market and backlash by foreign agriculture agencies illustrates just how correct the American farmers were in their assumptions. The concerns about GMO wheat have not diminished, but the folks in charge at the USDA surely appear more Monsanto friendly – and perhaps that prompted the new GE wheat trials. USDA Secretary Vilsack is not the only major staffer with connections to biotech companies. Senior Adviser Michael Taylor was the Vice-President of Public Policy at Monsanto from 1998 to 2001. Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Roger Beachy, was the president of Monsanto’s fund-raising arm, Danforth Plant Science Center. US Trade Representative Chief Agriculture Negotiator, Islam Siddiqui, was the vice president of CropLife America, a GMO lobbying group. CropLife America represented Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont, and BASF.
How do you feel about genetically modified wheat?