This morning NPR reported that a farmer in Oregon found some Roundup-resistant wheat growing on his land. He sent it to a lab for testing. That lab, and then subsequently the USDA, both confirmed that the plants were genetically modified. About a decade ago, Monsanto did create Roundup-resistent varieties of wheat, which they tested in wheat fields in 16 different states, but those field trials ended in 2005 since the wheat industry didn’t want it. It has never been approved by the U.S. government for commercial use.
Now here we are, 8 harvesting seasons later, and one farmer in Oregon happens to discover it on his land. What are the chances that it hasn’t spread much more widely in these past 8 years and actually contaminated commercial wheat crops? Personally, I think the chances are slim.
Pandora appears to have escaped from her box and may never be able to be contained, thanks to Mother Nature, who designed a very effective plant reproduction system whereby wind and animals can easily spread seeds so that they can multiply and eventually work their way to places where they will flourish. Natural selection will kick in and at this stage, nobody knows what the consequences will be because this transgenic mutation of wheat could never have come to be in the natural world. That’s because genetic modification is a totally different process from hybridization, which has long been practiced in wheat crops (see this article I wrote about wheat). Farmers have long practiced selective breeding of wheat by cross pollinating certain varieties with closely related varieties within the same species. Emily Main from Rodale News explains that, “Usually, the process of genetic modification involves genes from totally different species that could never be crossbred—wheat genes injected into soybeans, for example. Sometimes, genes are transferred not just from another species, but from a different kingdom, such as animal cells injected into plant cells.”
Something else that struck me about the article was the statement that, “Wheat exporters are worried about how their customers in Asia and Europe will react.” What about how we AMERICANS will react?? Am I the only one who going to scrutinize my wheat purchases more as a result of this? This goes back to the subject of my last post about why Europeans (and perhaps Asians too?) Care More About GMO’s Than the U.S.
Will Monsanto be held accountable? I highly doubt it. My guess is that they’re going to find a way to place the blame on someone else. For instance, maybe an individual farmer who may have been secretly saving seeds in the hope of gaining some competitive advantage. This is pure speculation at this point. While I am interested in getting to the bottom of what actually happened, I fear that the damage to my faith in the safety of that bag of flour in my pantry is permanent.