Biotech giant Monsanto just escaped prosecution for genetically engineered crops landing in a private field. This week, the company's facing a similar investigation for wheat.
Monsanto's back in the news over rogue biotech wheat ending up in Montana--and the timing couldn't be worse.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) just closed the last case of genetically engineered wheat found in eastern Oregon in 2013. This time the wheat’s been discovered at Montana State University's Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Mont.
Monsanto claims to have abandoned the idea of engineered consumables around 2003 and 2004 after Japan, South Korea and Taiwan postponed white-wheat imports. Cutting off of an important revenue for the U.S. and small farmers depending on the crop's profits created a very important moment in biotech engineering food crops.
NPR’s research refutes the claim of disbandment since Montana “workers tried to clear a small field using the weedkiller glyphosate,” which means some of the abandoned attempts survived and may have been growing for years without anyone knowing. And Monsanto did work with SARC in 2000-2003. However, U.S. Wheat Associates’ president Alan Tracy’s looking to downplay the impact on the global market, saying, “We don't expect any reaction.”
Unlike the Oregon case.
Modified grain’s never been approved for sale, so the contamination was one of the major reasons why buyers refused to purchase wheat for the suspended time frame. Thankfully, the entire crop was not infected in 2013, so exporting picked back up quickly. The worry has merit, though.
Oregon's loss isn’t the first time GMO food impacted buying and selling. Bayer CropScience's GM rice did effect the entire American rice crop selling industry in 2006--to the tune of an estimated $1.2 billion USD. And as countries begin to forbid genetic engineering of food, the U.S. market faces global repercussions for not carefully regulating the large companies that often lobby in Washington.
Bloomberg offers some good news for businesses looking to trade and interact, however. "The latest case shouldn’t affect trade since the rogue wheat was found on a non-commercial farm and the USDA found none in commerce."
Yet in 2004, the Food and Drug Administration determined the wheat known as Roundup Ready, a strain able to survive the Roundup herbicide, was found to be safe for consumption. After restarting trials of the biotech product in 2011, the USDA claimed to be looking at a closer eye on the company.
Of course, more worrying is the fact no one knows where the Oregon and Montana cases originated from and why they happened.
Many consumers still do not approve of the business's methods. Bloomberg notes “the [Oregon] incident highlighted tensions over genetically modified crops between agribusinesses that support biotechnology and advocates who question the products’ safety, with Oregon as a key battleground." The tech giant's latest trials can be found in nine states and Puerto Rico with close inspections coming over the past several years crops and environmental significance.
And citizens are taking note.
A November ballot measure requiring labeling of modified ingredients and foods already has a 77 percent support in Oregon. And in May, two counties in southern Oregon outright banned genetically modified crops.
According to APHIS investigations director Bernadette Juarez, the agency is not willing to take any chances. "We’ve now opened an investigation into this regulatory compliance issue,” referencing Montana’s latest abnormality. Continuing, she "remain[s] confident that the wheat exports will continue without disruption."
Monsanto’s head of regulatory affairs, Philip Miller, emailed an official statement to Bloomberg on Friday.
"While we believe our compliance program is best in class, we continuously review our processes and procedures to improve them, including site selection, field trial isolation, and verification and auditing of field trial locations." (Miller also sent the same statement to NBC News, as well.)
But if the company is continuously auditing, why have the recent incidents popped up?
Juarez still has no answers concerning Oregon’s occurrence after "one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations" in the history of the organization. "Ultimately we were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened." And the two case strains remain unrelated due to different genetic engineering. So what’s going on? It sounds like no one knows precisely.
Last year, Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robert Fraley had a different theory in mind. Claiming that the Oregon farmer “intentionally introduced wheat seed” as an anti-biotech activist. APHIS ignored the theory entirely due to lack of believability and proof.
As Oregon State University Professor Carol Mallory-Smith speculated at the time: “Any time a new trait is put into the environment, there's really no way of retracting that gene or bringing it back.” In other words, once a seed or environment element is introduced into the world, there are no take backs. Oops do not work in an open experiment where winds and fauna may unwittingly move a seed hundreds of miles away.
And such deep impacts to the ecological and economic systems are the main reasons why Oregon’s looking to fight against the biotech giant Monsanto to save their environment. As more information unfolds in private fields, the company may face more investigations.
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