(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2013) Several different lawsuits have been filed against the agrichemical giant Monsanto after the recent discovery of illegal Genetically Engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat plants in an Oregon wheat field. The GE wheat was first found in early May when field workers in eastern Oregon noticed a volunteer patch of wheat that survived a dousing with glyphosate.
Ernst Barnes, a Kansas wheat farmer, brought the first lawsuit against Monsanto. Soon after, a separate lawsuit was filed by the Center for Food Safety on behalf of Pacific Northwest wheat farmers. The lawsuits allege that the presence of GE wheat crops spurred top wheat importers, such as Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, to enact damaging restrictions on American wheat. These restrictions could lead to lower wheat imports and will cause devastating economic effects to wheat farmers.
While the world’s largest wheat importer, Egypt, has not signaled it would stop importing U.S. wheat, Japan has cancelled its order to buy U.S. western white wheat. Meanwhile, the European Union has prepared to begin testing shipments for the Roundup Ready gene. In 2012, U.S. exported wheat was valued at $18.1 billion, with 90% of Oregon’s wheat sent abroad.
Since 1994, Monsanto has conducted 279 field trials of Roundup Ready wheat over more than 4,000 acres of land in 16 states. Tests have been conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. After facing intense opposition from farmers and consumers, Monsanto reportedly stopped its efforts to introduce GE wheat, but restarted extensive field trials again in 2011 in Hawaii and North Dakota.
Though Monsanto has claimed this was an “isolated incident” and that it may be the result of “sabotage,” researchers at Oregon State University were not satisfied by these claims. According to Carol Mallory-Smith, PhD, a weed science professor at Oregon State University who tested the initial wheat plants and determined they were a genetic variety Monsanto had tested. “I don’t know how Monsanto can declare anything. We obviously had these plants in the field.” Though wheat is commonly self-pollinating, it can be wind pollinated, with some studies showing the crop cross pollinating up to 2.75 km.
This is not the first instance of GE crop contamination leading to litigation. Warren Burns, an attorney representing Kansas wheat farmer Ernest Barnes, said this case reminds him of similar litigation that arose from the contamination of the U.S. rice crop from test fields of GE rice. The contamination led to a Bayer CropScience announcement in 2011 that it would pay up to $750 million to settle claims, including those from farmers who say they had to plant different crops that yield lower profits.
For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.