by Tyler Durden
May 31, 2013
Monsanto genetically modified
wheat scandal is getting worse.
As a reminder, recently news broke out
that a rogue genetically modified strain of wheat
Monsanto, had been found in an Oregon field late last month.
But while modified food has long been a
diet staple, this particular breed was the first discovery of an
unapproved strain, and what made things worse is the lack of any
information how the rogue grain had escape from a field trial a
"even after weeks of investigation,
experts are baffled as to how the seed survived for years after
Monsanto had ceased all field tests of the product.
It was found in a field growing a
different type of wheat than Monsanto's strain, far from areas
used for field tests, according to an Oregon State University
wheat researcher who tested the strain."
USDA was quick to deny any suggestion of public danger:
The USDA said the GM wheat found in
Oregon posed no threat to human health, and also said there was
no evidence that the grain had entered the commercial supply
But the discovery threatens to stoke
consumer outcry over the possible risk of cross-contaminating
natural products with genetically altered foods, and may
embolden critics who say U.S. regulation of GMO products is lax.
This is compounded by the still fresh
memory of the glaring and repeated lies by the Japanese government
in regards to the Fukushima explosion, making some wonder just how
far the government is willing to go to cover up potential threats if
the alternative is widespread panic.
It is all the more alarming because
the wheat strain was thought to have been eliminated after test
trials ended in 2005, as Monsanto abandoned efforts to secure
regulatory approval due to worldwide opposition.
While there have been more than 20
majors violations of U.S. regulations on handling or co-mingling
biotechnology crops, none have ever involved wheat before.
Ironically, it was that master hypocrite
Japan, which is
now feeding its population rice
grown in the Fukushima evacuation zone, that was first
to halt US grain shipments,
[M]ajor buyer Japan canceled plans
to buy U.S. wheat while the Europe Union said it would step up
Some analysts feared a potentially
damaging blow to the $8 billion wheat export business, recalling
the more than yearlong disruption to corn sales following a
similar discovery in 2000.
"Unless there's a quick
resolution, this is not going to be good for the export
market," said Art Liming, grain futures specialist with
And as the global concern about just
what consumers are putting into their mouths spreads,
South Korean millers were the latest to just announce a
suspension of US wheat imports:
South Korean millers suspended
imports of U.S. wheat on Friday and some Asian countries stepped
up inspections after the discovery of an unapproved strain of
genetically modified wheat in the United States, but stopped
short of imposing import bans.
South Korea -
which last year sourced
roughly half of its total wheat imports of 5 million metric tons
from the U.S. - has also raised quarantine measures
on U.S. feed wheat, while Thailand put ports on alert.
As more countries follow South Korea's
example, Asia may suddenly find itself with a major wheat shortage:
Asia imports more than 40 million
metric tons of wheat annually, almost a third of the global
trade of 140-150 million metric tons. The bulk of the region's
supplies come from the U.S., the world's biggest exporter, and
Australia, the No. 2 supplier.
But Australia will struggle to soak
up extra demand as its supplies tighten in the wake of
unsustainably brisk exports and growing demand from domestic
"The bulk of grain suppliers (in
Australia) are cancelling shipping slots and selling grain
to domestic feed mills and feedlots," said Stefan Meyer, a
manager for cash markets at brokerage INTL FCStone in
Japan is not rushing to find
alternative sources of wheat, however, with the county's flour
milling industry body saying they have sufficient stocks for the
"We haven't thought about
alternatives to the grade or proposed candidates to the farm
ministry (at this stage)," said Masaaki Kadota, executive
director of the Flour Millers Association of Japan.
Perhaps just as well:
what better way to
avoid even more soaring food import costs than due to an embargo on
foreign grain imports.
It is unclear if the proposed alternative
will be five-eyed fish caught off the Fukushima coast.
Another country even more reliant on the
US for wheat is the Philippines:
An industry official in the
Philippines, which buys about 4 million metric tons of wheat a
year and relies mainly on U.S. supplies, said the country could
turn to Canada if it decides not to import from the U.S.
Hopefully Monsanto's GMed strain didn't
mysteriously cross the Canada border as well.
Which it very well may have: as of now
the source of the spread of the rogue wheat is completely unknown:
Bob Zemetra, the Oregon State
researcher, said a local farmer contacted the university in late
April after noticing that some wheat plants survived an
application of herbicide that was being used to kill off
unwanted plants in the fallow field.
Most plants died, but a few wheat
plants unexpectedly emerged after the spraying. Researchers
determined the wheat is a strain of Roundup-Ready tested by
Monsanto in Oregon fields from 1999 to 2001.
GM crops tolerate certain
pesticides, allowing farmers to improve weed control and
Zemetra said Monsanto had been
field-testing spring wheat, while the "volunteer" plants
discovered in the eastern Oregon field were winter wheat.
The two varieties pollinate at
different times, making it unlikely for the GMO traits to have
been carried into the field by wind.
"That's why it's a mystery," he
Farmers, wondering whether their
wheat could unknowingly be genetically modified, have flooded
farm bureaus with questions.
They should not spray crops with
Roundup to check whether they will survive, said Mike Flowers,
extension cereals specialist for Oregon State University.
The final word is not surprising: keep
calm and keep eating.
recommendation right now is to not panic," he said.
really need to let the investigators do their jobs and get more
information before people panic. We don't know if it's
widespread. Right now, we know it's in one field."
There's that... And let's not forget the
government is always there to help you.
But while the potential dangers are
clear for all, one wonder:
In a world in which millions of
people eat the mystery meat contained in McNuggets, not to
mention KFC, each and every day, isn't it a little too
hypocritical to be worried about the genetic make up of a loaf
Rogue Monsanto Wheat
by Tom Philpott
May 31, 2013
One of the
four major US crops,
is not like the others.
For one, wheat is mainly consumed
directly by people, while the others are mostly used as animal feed.
Its status as people food - the stuff of bread, the staff of life -
probably explains why wheat is different from the other three in
It's also the only one that genetically modified
Monsanto seed giant hasn't turned into a cash cow.
The company has made massive profits
churning out corn, soy, and (most recently) alfalfa seeds
genetically altered to withstand doses of
its own herbicide,
But the company has never commercialized a GM wheat variety
stopped trying back in 2004,
largely because of consumer pushback against directly consuming a GM
And thank goodness, too, because Roundup
Ready technology is now
failing, giving rise to
a plague of herbicide resistant weeds and a gusher of toxic
Wheat's non-GMO status is why the
Internet went berserk when the US Department of Agriculture
revealed Wednesday that Roundup Ready wheat had sprouted up on a
farm in Oregon.
According to the
USDA, a farmer discovered the plants growing in a place they
shouldn't have been and tried unsuccessfully to kill them with
Roundup. Oops. USDA testing confirmed that the rogue wheat was the
same experimental Roundup Ready variety that Monsanto had last been
approved to test in Oregon in 2001.
Many countries accept
US-grown GM corn and soy for animal feed. But as the USDA
noted, no country on Earth has approved the sale of GM wheat.
And if Roundup Ready wheat is growing on
one farm, our trading partners might legitimately ask, what
guarantee is there that it's not growing on others? Already, Japan has responded by
suspending imports of US wheat, Bloomberg
Maximizing exports has always been a
main priority of the Obama Administration's ag policy, and, the
USDA is scrambling to investigate the extent to which Roundup Ready
wheat has entered the food supply, no doubt hoping to stave off a
full-on trade crisis.
"We are taking this very seriously,"
a USDA official told Bloomberg. "We
have a very active investigation going on in several states in
the western US."
Meanwhile, the question of how those GM
seeds found their way onto that Oregon farm - more than a decade
after the state's last GM wheat trials - looms. Wheat can transfer
genes from one field to another
As Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior
scientist of Pesticide Action Network of North America, put it in a
"once released into the environment,
the GE genie does not willingly go back into the bottle."
I'll be eagerly awaiting updates as the
USDA continues its investigations.