Monsanto’s GMO wheat got loose. Now the world is rejecting US wheat.

  • Published on June 4th, 2013

storm brewing over Monsanto's rogue GMO wheat

Those amber waves of grain, it turns out, are contaminated by an experimental strain of Monsanto’s GMO wheat that was never supposed to get loose among the general populace.

Yep, now it’s Frankenwheat that has gone rogue. Samples have been found in Oregon that match a strain that was tested years ago – but never approved. And while our USDA and FDA might be inclined to just shrug (being dominated as they are by former employees of Monsanto), other nations take this stuff rather more seriously.

  • Japan is suspending imports of that type of wheat from the US until we can guarantee we’re not sending them poison.
  • South Korea is testing all US wheat imports
  • Europe already rejects most GMO crops, and started testing US wheat over the weekend.
  • Many other countries could follow suit if we can’t demonstrate that our $9 billion a year in wheat exports aren’t contaminated.

Between 1998 and 2005, tests were legally conducted with that strain of wheat in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

While Monsanto and their apologists have always maintained that there was no danger of this stuff getting out and contaminating the gene pool, it’s been pretty obvious all along that there really was no way they could keep a lid on it.

“These requirements are leaky and there is just no doubt about that. There is a fundamental problem with the system,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biotech expert who advised the FDA during the Bush years and is now with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

How do you clean up a potential GMO mess? You can’t. As geneticist David Suzuki pointed out in an earlier RGB article:

“The difference with GM food is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be difficult or impossible to stuff it back. If we stop using DDT and CFCs, nature may be able to undo most of the damage – even nuclear waste decays over time. But GM plants are living organisms. Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.”

“A lot of people are on high alert now,” Mike Flowers, a cereal specialist at Oregon State University, told Reuters. “We can’t really say if it is or isn’t in other fields. We don’t know.”

“This was not from a recent trial, which means it’s been sitting there in the environment,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, told the Washington Post. “It’s highly doubtful that it’s just on one farm. If it’s out there, it’s out there.”

And as for where it came from… that’s a mystery, too. Bob Zemetra, one of the Oregon State University wheat researchers who first tagged the GMO invader, says “I don’t know that we are ever going to get a straight answer, or a satisfactory answer, on how it got there.”

Zemetra told Reuters he “first became aware of the wheat found in Oregon when a farmer brought in what he described as several isolated wheat plants that had emerged after he sprayed Roundup on a fallow field in eastern Oregon. The farmer had last harvested a crop of white winter wheat from the field in 2012.” Which implies that some of that previous seed had been contaminated. It grew and reseeded… and then when Roundup killed everything around it, only the wheat remained. Which is, after all, Monsanto’s entire business model. Kill everything else and only Monsanto’s GMO plants will be left standing.

Once you’ve got sacks of wheat ready for export, there’s no easy way to test them, short of an expensive and time-consuming DNA test. It’s not really convenient to spray Monsanto’s Roundup on your wheat crop and see whether or not it dies.

Jim Shroyer, a wheat expert Kansas State University, told Reuters. “That is the main reason we here in the top wheat state did not want Roundup Ready. You can’t get rid of it.”

As Scott Prentice of GMO FREE CERTIFIEDnotes:

“This upset markets and more then likely made some people short selling wheat millions… If this strain of GMO proves to be Monsanto’s will they be responsible to everyone who lost money?  Will this bring justification to the farmers who say that Monsanto’s GMO crops do actually cross over into their fields via pollination and air travel?

(Image LicenseAttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Anguskirk)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
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  • Daws

    The quote by the geneticist is curious as he’s talking about domesticated crops not organisms in the wild. In fact the reason we do not see domesticated crops growing loose in the wild is because they are not suited for it. Nature has not been selecting upon them, we have. This should make clear how being a geneticist is not the same as being an environmental scientist.

    Secondly the concern for “contamination” seems to be primarily marketing based since no decent science has shown any problems with the crops, dispite that (or because) biotech varieties are subject to exponentially more testing and regulation than traditionally developed varieties. To explicate: As GMOs are not included under the label “organic” the farmer may be prevented from marketing them as such -even though the product is nutritionally identical and the agricultural practices would have been exactly the same. (Why would they change growing practices for varieties they did not know were there?)

    This I think points to one of the many problems with the label “organic” rather than with GMOs, the concept directly appeals to naturalism rather than environmentalism -which the public often is more concerned about.

    If anything a new label is needed to address these concerns and the term “organic” needs to be regulated to the realms of “kosher” and “halal.”

  • kim clarke

    Monsanto…what it stands for and how much power they wield, makes me sick!

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