On Wednesday federal officials announced that genetically engineered wheat had been found on a farm in eastern Oregon, a development that risks seriously disrupting American wheat exports. Although other crops such as corn and soybeans are genetically modified, they are either consumed by animals or made into processed foods, while wheat is consumed directly.
The farmer found the wheat in a part of his field not used for farming and when he tried to kill it using Roundup, the wheat resisted. The Department of Agriculture found that it was the type of Roundup-resistant wheat developed by agricultural biotech giant Monsanto. Monsanto had tested GMO wheat up until 2005, with the last Oregon test being in 2001.
The Department of Agriculture is investigating whether the wheat made its way into the consumption supply. While the USDA says there is no risk to consumers, the market reaction may hurt farmers. Monsanto chose not to continue with the development of the product specifically due to concerns that it would not sell well in consumer-resistant foreign markets.
If the GMO strand is found to have been produced and shipped for consumption, it could seriously disrupt exports to Europe and Asia where consumers have a strong distrust of genetically modified organisms. America exports $8.1 billion of the grain annually, representing half of America’s total wheat crop. Oregon, where 90% of the crop is exported, could be seriously hurt by the investigation if it is not completed before the harvest begins in a few weeks.
In 2006, unapproved GMO rice was found in the American harvest, freezing exports temporarily and sending prices plummeting. That case resulted in Bayer CropScience, the creators of the GMO rice, paying $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 American farmers.
The wheat is believed to originate from Monsanto, which has a history engaging in immoral practices. For instance if its seeds are spread from Monsanto farms to neighboring farms, the company requires the neighboring non-Monsanto farms to sign up with Monsanto or face fines that would likely bankrupt them.
These practices were covered in this segment of the award-winning documentary Food Inc.