Genetically Modified Organism Debate Hits Home In Oregon
A couple weeks ago I asked for support for Senator Jeff Merkely’s (D-Ore.) amendment to the Senate version of the 2013 Farm Bill to repeal the infamous Monsanto Protection Act.
A couple weeks before that I was listening to Carol Mallory-Smith, Professor of Weed Science from Oregon State University discuss how the Willamette Valley area had successfully plotted lands to allow for both genetically modified organisms as well as conventional crops.
Interestingly, the two sides of the genetically modified organism issue have collided right here in my own state.
Genetically Modified Wheat BackgroundThe United States Department of Agriculture oversaw an experimental wheat crop by Monsanto planted in Oregon that ended in 2005. Assurances were provided that the genetically modified seed wouldn’t contaminate nearby fields. This is critical because many countries have banned genetic modification and any imports containing genetically modified organisms. Unfortunately a strain of genetically modified wheat reappeared on a farm in Eastern Oregon at the end of May. An “unexpected” genetically modified organism contamination.
Genetically Modified Wheat & Economy
This contamination could cause serious financial issues as Japan and South Korea have already halted some wheat shipments from the Pacific Northwest. to 90 percent of the soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian nations. The economic impact of the genetically modified contamination could be huge.
Contamination isn’t new to the marketplace but previous occurrences have stopped exports for extended periods and cost billions of dollars in lost revenue. A similar situation occurred in 2006 when Japan and Europe banned rice imports after a genetically modified strain was found to have contaminated a large portion of U.S. farmland.
Asia imports more than 44 million tons of wheat each year, most of this from the United States, the world’s biggest exporter of wheat. The Philippines purchases about 4.5 million tons of wheat, mostly from the United States. Officials are waiting on more details before determining if shipments will be halted.
If other countries follow the lead of Japan and South Korea and stop purchasing wheat over a fear of contamination there could be a major threat to the Oregon wheat farming industry.
Genetically Modified Wheat and Containment
Most worrisome is that the field tests on this genetically modified wheat were discontinued by Monsanto in 2005 and yet the strain has reappeared. So, it has had several growing seasons to spread around the area. 15 federal investigators have been assigned and are trying to determine the extent of the genetically modified contamination.
Obviously this contamination of genetically modified wheat puts into question if these plants can be safely tested without contaminating nearby crops. Anyone who has every visited a farm can identify the difficult of containing these genetically modified crops. Pollen and seeds are spread by the wind, animals, weather, and people without regard for arbitrarily designed boundaries. Although I question the benefit of genetically modified organisms there seems to at least be options to open field testing / secure greenhouses, underground growing areas with artificial lights, testing genes in laboratories using less invasive plants such as algae. The bottom line is that this genetically modified wheat contamination proves the current system isn’t containing the strains even eight years later.
Medford Mail Tribune. http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130601/NEWS/306010302.
Oregon State University. http://cropandsoil.oregonstate.edu/content/carol-mallory-smith
United States Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2013/05/ge_wheat_detection.shtml.
The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/unapproved-genetically-modified-wheat-from-monsanto-found-in-oregon-field/2013/05/30/93fe7abe-c95e-11e2-8da7-d274bc611a47_story.html.