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Daily News Blog

11
Jun

Unapproved, Roundup-Ready Wheat Found in Washington Farm Field

(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2019) Genetically engineered (GE) wheat developed to tolerate repeated applications of Bayer Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has been discovered in a farm field in Washington State. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has never approved a GE wheat variety for commercial production, making the incident a potential economic export risk. In the past, Asian and European countries have temporarily blocked purchases of U.S. wheat as a result of GE contamination. Organic and non-GE farmers are also at risk as any contamination with non-GE varieties can result in loss of certifications and price premiums.

According to USDA, the discovery was made on an unplanted wheat field, though officials have refused to disclose where in the state the GE plants were found. In 2013, a similar situation played out in Oregon after a farmer noticed wheat plants persisting after an application of Roundup. The discovery led to a number of lawsuits against agrichemical company Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer Cropscience.

At the time, Monsanto indicated that the incident was isolated, or potentially even the result of “sabotage.” An investigation by USDA was inconclusive, indicating the case “appears to be an isolated occurrence and that there is no evidence of any GE wheat in commerce.” However, the Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) noted it was, “unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field.”

Though wheat is commonly self-pollinating, it can be wind pollinated, with some studies showing the crop cross pollinating up to one and a half miles from where it’s planted.

Just as USDA wrapped up its 2013 Oregon investigation, GE wheat was again discovered growing at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC). In both instances, GE wheat field trials had occurred in the early 2000s, but not grown since then. USDA vowed to tighten up any GE wheat planting trials since those incidents.

The news comes in the midst of an ongoing trade war struggles for U.S. farmers, although APHIS is again insisting that there is no evidence GE wheat has entered commercial supplies. The US Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers said in a statement, “We cannot speculate or comment about any potential market reactions until we have a chance to discuss the situation in more detail with overseas customers.”

GE wheat is an unnecessary experiment with numerous downsides for average farmers and the marketplace as a whole, and upsides that would only further benefit multinational agrichemical companies like Bayer Monsanto. According to the Center for Food Safety, the U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, an over $8 billion business. A 2005 study estimated that the wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million if GE wheat were introduced. Past transgenic contamination episodes involving GE corn and GE rice have triggered over $1 billion in losses and economic hardship to farmers.

The risks are particularly pronounced for organic farmers. Under current regulations, organic and non-GE conventional farmers must pay for crop assurance or self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination. Placing the onus on these farmers that can lose their organic certification or price premium from industrial operations is the wrong approach to safeguarding the food supply. Not only are these farmers at risk of genetic drift from GE varieties, increased use of herbicides like Roundup means a higher likelihood that herbicides will drift, which can damage crops and also lead to a loss of certification.

Organic farming represents a viable, scalable path towards a safer food supply and better trade relations for U.S. agricultural exports. While industry-captured regulatory agencies like USDA continue to promote the benefit of GE agriculture and downplay its many risks, farmers, farmworkers, the economy, the environment and public health suffer. Learn more about the risks of GE herbicide tolerant crops by visiting Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Bloomberg, Morning AgClips

 

 

 

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