August 4, 2016
A farmer has found 22 illegal plants of genetically modified wheat in an unplanted Washington field, sparking fears of another international trade fiasco like the one that occurred three years ago when similar wheat was found growing illegally in Oregon.
The wheat, which has been developed to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is unapproved for sale and commercial production in this country. The exact location of the wheat plants in question has not been released, and it’s not clear how it got there in the first place. It is being reported that the field where it was found had not been planted since last year.
Federal officials are working together with the farmer to make sure the modified wheat is not sold. They will be testing the farmer’s entire harvest of wheat to make sure none of it is tainted with GMOs. The wheat they have tested so far has all come up clear, and the USDA claims there is no evidence that this wheat has made its way into the market.
The plants found in Washington are eerily similar to wheat that was discovered three years ago in Oregon. The inserted DNA in the plant is the same, although it appears in a different location.
Similar discovery led other countries to ban American wheat in 2013
When genetically modified wheat was discovered in an eastern Oregon field in 2013, a number of Asian countries placed a temporary ban on American wheat imports, including Japan and South Korea, while the European Union began to scrutinize American wheat. The plants involved were discovered after being sprayed with Roundup and surviving. An investigation failed to uncover how the plants got there.
In light of the Washington finding, South Korea, the fifth biggest market for American wheat, has already said it will be inspecting all American wheat imports for signs of GMOs. The USDA said it would make a test available to trading partners. Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires said be believes trading partners will continue to buy the wheat once they have the tests, and he added that he doesn’t anticipate major trade disruptions taking place as a result. Prices on wheat are nearing multi-year lows thanks to tight competition in the international market.
Genetically engineered wheat is illegal for commercial use and production in the U.S. and throughout the world. Monsanto admitted that GMO wheat plants were used during field trails between 1998 and 2001 in the Pacific Northwest, but they were never commercialized. Illegal GMO wheat was also discovered at a university research center in Montana, 14 years after Monsanto had tested it there.
Possibilities of contamination high
Part of the problem is that wheat pollen can blow into neighboring fields, which means it is fairly easy for crops to become contaminated. Wheat is also capable of self-pollination, which means there is no telling just how far the GM wheat from Monsanto’s open-air tests could have spread. It seems to be popping up unexpectedly even more than a decade after the tests. This places the integrity of our nation’s wheat crops at risk, and it means that short of growing your own organic fruits and vegetables at home, there is little that can be done to ensure that the food you consume is completely pure.
Farmers aren’t happy about the possible contamination, and the tests used to check for purity can be quite expensive. Monsanto shelled out $2.4 million in order to settle a lawsuit that was filed by American wheat farmers in the fallout of the Oregon GMO wheat scare. In 2015, the firm paid a further $350,000 to various farmers for the same problem. Of course, these amounts barely make a dent in the firm’s bottom line as their annual profits number in the billions.