GM contamination déjà vu

June 2013

Wheat field in Oregon. Photo by Gary Halvorson
Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
GM Freeze has repeatedly pointed out that the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops without contamination is almost impossible. GM pollen, GM seed and inevitable human error conspire to spread artificial DNA around no matter how rigorous the prescribed containment procedures.

In May 2013, US regulators announced that Roundup(herbicide)-resistant wheat had been found growing on a farm in Oregon: analysis confirmed it contained Monsanto's modified genes.

Commercial GM wheat development was discontinued in 2006 at the request of the wheat industry, plus an international threat to boycott American wheat. However, between 1998 and 2005, over a hundred test sites of Roundup-resistant wheat were grown in 16 US states. It is a full eight years since the last field trial of this GM wheat was grown in Oregon.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims it has no other reports of such contamination, nor any evidence that GM wheat has entered the market place.

Such gene contamination is a sensitive issue in America. The country exports half of its wheat, and Oregon exports 90 percent. GM wheat hasn't been approved anywhere in the world. A contaminated shipment, therefore, risks being turned back at the port of entry.

As soon as the news broke, testing was stepped up in the European Union, Japan cancelled orders for wheat from suspect sources, and US wheat prices dropped 4.5 percent.

Reaction in the US was disbelief: 
“This is impossible ... this is so improbable, this has got to be a bad test” (wheat commission report).
American farmers first concerns are their customers' confidence and the possibility of expensive new testing requirements. Already, three class actions have been filed against Monsanto for financial losses, for failing to protect the wheat market, and for field-testing GM wheat in the full knowledge that contamination was possible. Monsanto predictably dismissed the rogue genes as an “isolated event”. Regulators rushed to reassure the market that “this is not a food or feed safety issue”.

The timing of this gene pollution in a staple crop is particularly unfortunate, because US consumers are showing increasing interest in avoiding GM foods and demands for labelling are high on the agenda in many states.

Add to this that America is just recovering from its part in the global pollution of the rice market. Liberty(herbicide)-resistant GM rice was found contaminating the US long grain rice supply five years after small experimental field trials at a single site. The rogue genes in its wheat supply have come to light eight years down the line.

The Organic Consumers' Association asked:
“How many other unknown instances of contamination have occurred but have yet to be discovered?” 
Most artificial DNA won't be obvious unless someone tests for it: nobody's testing and, once in the environment, it won't go away. Since gene pollution equals loss of profits, and possibly reduced land values, farmers finding any such signs in their fields are more likely to cover it up than do what the Oregon farmer did.

The Oregon story might be the tip of a GM polluted iceberg. Despite attempts to portray its biotech wheat programme as having closed down, Monsanto is still doing field tests of experimental GM wheat today in North Dakota and Hawaii. There are also hundreds of other GM field trials currently being conducted in every region of America.


Every gene, every cell, and every plant is a self-replicating entity. It's not possible for the GM wheat in a field in Oregon to be an “isolated event”: the GM plants must have come from other GM plants and must have been breeding for most, if not all, of the eight years since the field trials.

No matter how you look at it, GM is a time-bomb, no matter how bright the GM picture painted by the UK Government might look (see WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - News, April 2013).

Make sure biotech crops are kept OUT of British fields

  • Unlicensed GM Wheat Contaminates US Farm, GM Freeze Release, 30.05.13
  • Monsanto's GM research Wheat: Never Been Approved or Marketed But Still Contaminates US Farm, GM Education, 31.05.13
  • Genetically modified wheat found in Oregon field raises trade concerns, Guardian 29.05.13
  • OCA Calls for Immediate Moratorium on Open-Air Field Testing of GE Crops, Organic Consumers' Association Release, 6.06.13
  • Eric Mortenson, Genetically modified wheat: No answers yet, federal investigators say, The Oregonian, 11.06.13
  • Eric Mortenson, Genetically modified wheat: Oregon growers shocked at discovery, seek to reassure export markets, The Oregonian, 4.06.13
  • Carey Gillam, U.S. farmer lawsuit filed against Monsanto over GMO wheat, Reuters, 7.06.13

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