Thursday, May 30, 2013

Case of Genetically Modified Wheat in Oregon That Is Not Supposed to Exist (But Did)

I read the news yesterday that the Japanese government canceled the order to purchase wheat from Oregon because of the wheat was genetically modified. I didn't think much about it.

Then just now, I read a Businessweek article that says that genetically modified wheat is not supposed to exist in the US but it did in Oregon. A wheat farmer noticed some wheat plants that survived glyphosate when he sprayed the field for preparation for new planting. These wheat plants were those that sprout voluntarily from seeds knocked loose during harvest.

(Wait a minute... That means the last year's crop from this field WAS genetically modified wheat...)

The Businessweek article doesn't give any answer to this enigma. But since the wheat in question is resistant to glyphosate, which Monsanto has been marketing as "Roundup" since 1973, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that it was from Monsanto. Washington Post seems to think so, too.

From Businessweek (5/30/2013; emphasis is mine):

Genetically Modified Wheat Isn't Supposed to Exist. So What Is It Doing in Oregon?

By Justin Bachman

Wheat farmers, advocates of food safety, and pretty much anyone who eats bread or noodles have turned their attention to Oregon, where a wheat farmer found a genetically engineered strain of wheat in his otherwise unmodified crop. He couldn’t kill it in any of the normal ways, so he sent it to the lab for testing, which sounds like the set-up for a farm-belt horror movie. The reality has caused alarm of a different sort: Genetically modified wheat hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and unlike corn and soy and other so-called GMO foods, there isn’t supposed to be any genetically modified wheat in the U.S. food supply at all.

There are two reasons to care. Food safety folks lobby hard for labeling of genetically modified foods, saying that the jury is out on the long-term health and environmental effects and consumers deserve to know what they’re buying. The companies that make the seeds say they’re perfectly safe. And for wheat farmers and exporters, this potentially cripples the export market: Many foreign buyers don’t want genetically modified wheat and can switch their buying to Russia, Ukraine, Australia, and other large exporters. Japan reacted quickly, canceling an order today for nearly 25,000 tons of wheat, Bloomberg News reported, and wheat futures dropped on the Chicago Board of Trade.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is responsible for keeping unapproved GMOs out of the food supply, has begun testing the wheat. In a full-court PR press, the agency has also released a Q&A (PDF) and video to address the issue. Here are a few points to consider:

It’s probably too late to do much about this.

The U.S. has some 1,000 field trials for new gene-altered crops each year, most in multiple sites. The protocols for containing those genes are lax, argue such critics as the Center for Food Safety, which wants a moratorium on field testing of gene-altered crops. ”I would not be at all surprised if there are a number of experimental genes that have contaminated and are happily being passed along at low levels in the food supplies of various crops already, but nobody’s testing,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “It’s really a ‘don’t look, don’t tell’ situation. We just really don’t know.”

After all, this isn’t the first time.

In 2000, a strain of corn called StarLink, engineered by Aventis (SNY) to kill caterpillars, was found in taco shells. In 2006, Bayer’s (BAYN) LibertyLink experimental rice made its way into the food supply, leading to lost exports. In 2012, the German company agreed to pay $750 million to settle claims from 11,000 U.S. farmers in five states. Restoring genetic purity to a crop is a very expensive process and takes time.

Is there a public safety issue?

That’s a matter of debate. Regulators were quick to jump on the Oregon discovery with a battery of tests and extensive investigations that are under way now. Monsanto (MON) designed the Roundup Ready wheat to withstand its Roundup herbicide used to keep fields free of pests, and the gene isn’t considered harmful. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed the food and feed safety of Roundup Ready wheat more than a decade ago,” Monsanto said in a May 29 statement.

Critics of gene-altered food argue that the periodic crop discoveries highlight a regulatory system that is woefully inadequate to monitor the expansion of modified crops and to detect any dangerous genes that could materialize. “The question is why APHIS does not tighten its procedures for field trials. It’s incredibly lax, whatever APHIS may try to say,” says Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety.

(Full article at the link)

Monsanto seems to be able to do whatever they want to do anyway. They have the US Supreme Court siding with them, and President Obama keeps the former VP of Monsanto as his Food Safety Czar.

Foreign markets don't want GM crop? Poor Monsanto, suffering from 'baseless rumors'...


Masher1 said...

without a legal foot to stand on with this GMO garbage Monsanto will simply use aircraft to drop their deadly seed onto anyplace they want to. Why no one has figured this out is well beyond me. If one is looking hard enough i bet there are plenty more places this crime is going on. Once they get THEIR stuff going it will be a bear to get rid of.

Vyse Legendaire said...

What's a genetic holocaust here or there? Let's just overwrite nature's millions of years of evolution with the law of profit-motive, clearly its a time tested philosophy lasting ....well decades, but its time tested and safe,(according to in-pocket lawmakers, judge, president, and regulators) believe me.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if the reason the bees are suffering a die off? Is the plant pollen different or could it be significant? Has Montasano TESTED with bees for several generations? Or it is THAT what we are seeing --the die off as a test? Also, for those of us with celiac disease, or similar, that genetically engineered wheat is not good for us to eat. It is a problem for us. Maybe THAT is why I have recently had more problems trying to eat the special flours that I was able to eat before. No way to prove it..but could be a factor. Can one test flour to determine if genetically modified? Is there a company doing reasonably priced testing for potientally GM food stuffs? FDA?

Anonymous said...

Wait a moment, wasn't the business idea of Monsanto to sell seed that is genetically modified not only to withstand their agrochemicals, but also do not germinate -- so that they could do the sale next year again? Seems they have not the faintest what they are doing. Ooh, and it's so safe. A single shot through both feet of Monsanto, unfortunately not enough to stop them.

netudiant said...

Monsanto has been working on the sterile seed concept, but it is not yet mainstream technology. However, their existing seeds usually do not breed true, although the most recent court case indicates that the 'Round Up Ready' corn seeds do.
In any event, it is obvious that planting these genetically modified plants will irreversibly introduce their genes into the wild. Afaik there is no liability attached to this. Yet if I release a plague virus, I would surely be blamed.
GMO seeds do have adverse effects, notably contaminating previously pure heritage seed lines, but the courts thus far have held the GMO producers blameless. It will probably take a disaster for Congress to wake up and set some controls on this area.

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