By Genna Reed
Last week, the USDA announced that an Oregon farmer was unknowingly growing glyphosate-resistant wheat in his non-GE wheat field. This was quite shocking considering Monsanto ended its GE wheat research program in 2004 and its field trials in 16 states in 2005. If this happened in one farm in Oregon, who’s to say that there are aren’t similar incidents in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington or Wyoming? Not only could there be incidents from years ago, but according to USDA data, Monsanto is currently field testing new varieties of GE wheat in North Dakota and Hawaii. These experimental GE crops could be contaminating neighboring wheat fields this very moment.
Monsanto claims that its process for ending its Roundup Ready wheat program was “rigorous, well-documented and audited” and the USDA claims that all field trials are inspected once a year. Yet, at a December 2011 USDA stakeholder meeting I attended, a USDA representative from the Biotechnology Regulatory Services branch announced that only 800 inspections were performed that year even though there were 2,500 new permits in addition to older permits that still needed to be inspected. That means that not even a third of permitted GE field trials are inspected by the USDA every year.
The jig is up—USDA and biotech companies were unable to reign in the GE technology a decade ago, and they still can’t control it today. This isn’t the first time an unapproved GE trait has made it past the field trial stage into the food system, with serious economic ramifications.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified six known unauthorized releases of GE crops between 2000 and 2008. In 2000, Japan discovered GE StarLink corn, which was not approved for human food, in 70 percent of tested samples, even though StarLink represented under 1 percent of total U.S. corn cultivation. After the StarLink discovery, Europe banned all U.S. corn imports, costing U.S. farmers $300 million. In August 2006, unapproved GE Liberty Link rice was found to have contaminated conventional rice stocks. Japan halted all U.S. rice imports and Europe imposed heavy restrictions, costing the U.S. rice industry $1.2 billion. In 2007, Ireland impounded imported U.S. livestock feed that tested positive for GE, unapproved in the country.
Half of U.S. wheat is exported to countries with strict labeling restrictions, and since 90 percent of Oregon’s wheat is exported, it is likely that some of the unapproved GE wheat made it overseas. This could mean millions of dollars of costs for farmers and the U.S. government if that is indeed the case. To avoid any more of these GE contamination fiascos, tell Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to place a moratorium on field trials of GE crops.