More than 150 agricultural organizations, companies and businesses who oppose genetically modified foods (GMOs) have signed a letter calling on the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase oversight of genetically engineered  seed trials.
The discovery of unapproved GMO wheat  in an Oregon field in May prompted the partnership and increased action by members of the groups. The GMO  wheat found in the field impacted farmers who had resisted the trend to plant genetically engineered seeds. Wheat prices dropped and Japan, along with other foreign buyers, terminated orders for wheat imports from the United States. The USDA is investigating the incident.
“The economic impacts of the GE wheat discovery in Oregon were immediate,” Oregon wheat farmer Clint Lindsey said. He had to temporarily halt his wheat shipments after news of the Oregon GMO wheat broke.
“Our customers are still asking us what measures we’re taking to ensure our wheat doesn’t include GE material. We are the ones who have to pay for testing, which increases our costs. The threat of contamination also undermines the credibility of our business.”
Todd Leake, a North Dakota conventional wheat grower, said “our export markets have zero tolerance for GE traits in our wheat products.”
“It’s extremely important that the USDA moves to protect the conventional wheat industry from the threat of contamination,” Leake said. “Several GE wheat field trials are underway in North Dakota and have the potential to contaminate our spring wheat supply. If another contamination event surfaces, the consequences would be devastating. We don’t want to lose our export markets to other countries.”
The letter-signing was organized by the Organic Seed Alliance and the Rural Advancement Foundation International.
The coalition is calling for more strict regulations of seed field trials by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont, even more critical.
The agricultural coalition met with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack last week to share their ideas for increased GMO oversight. The group wants the USDA to approve the following GMO field trial recommendations:
- “Halt new approvals of GE wheat field trials at least until the Oregon contamination investigation is complete.
- “Fully implement recommendations made by investigative bodies and Congress that aim to improve field trial oversight.
- “Publish a final report detailing the department’s investigation into the Oregon wheat event, including sampling and testing methodologies.
- “If trials are approved, put appropriate tools in hand to test for unapproved GE traits in cases of suspected and confirmed contamination events.
- “Require mandated containment protocols for all GE crop field trials.”
The USDA, FDA, and EPA are infused with former Monsanto staffers. The Monsanto-USDA  connection appears to run deep. Islam Siddiqui, previously employed as a Monsanto lobbyist, wrote the organic labeling food standards for the USDA. Another former lobbyist for the biotech giant, Michael Taylor, approved Monsanto’s growth hormones for cows while serving as the FDA deputy commissioner and USDA administrator.
Margaret Miller, also a former Monsanto staffer, oversaw the hormone safety report and then approved her own work in her new position at the FDA. Three Monsanto board members have also been employed by the EPA, were appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, and advised the USDA. The director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a position which does not require approval by Congress, is held by Roger Beachy. He was president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, Monsanto’s non-profit division.
As long as this atmosphere continues, GMO regulations likely will face an uphill battle.