Roundup Ready Wheat
It was reported last week that genetically modified wheat never approved for sale had been discovered in a farmer’s field in Oregon. The wheat had been developed by Monsanto to express glyphosate resistance (Roundup Ready). While test fields of the wheat had been planted in 16 states between 1998 and 2005, the product was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Given the resistance among wheat farmers concerned that GM wheat would be rejected by European and Asian consumers, Monsanto announced it had shelved Roundup Ready wheat.
While it was not clear how widespread the GM wheat had become, the US Department of Agriculture announced investigators were looking into the incident. The Japanese government announced it was suspending some wheat shipments from the United States over fear of contamination. Japan is one of the largest importers of US wheat.
It’s too early to know how the GM wheat made it into the Oregonian farmer’s field. It’s clear, though, that he did not plant it. He was one the one who reported it to the USDA after he found it was resistant to Roundup. However, a couple of challenging questions come up regardless of how the GM wheat wound up in this particular field.
First, the USDA has generally rejected claims for damages from conventional or organic farmers whose varieties cross-pollinate with GM seed suggesting that they purchase insurance if they want to hedge against any losses. This of course shifts responsibility for preventing loss through cross-pollination to the victim. It’s akin to saying that I should insure my chickens in case my neighbor’s dog comes through the fence and attacks them. Where is the neighbor’s responsibility to take measures to prevent the incident from occurring in the first place?
Second, plants exist to pollinate, so it’s not unreasonable to think that this sort of thing will take place with greater regularity as GM crops expand. A 2005 report by Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson at the Center for Food Safety found that half of all seeds sold as organic in the United States have genetically modified material in their germplasm. At that rate, all wheat will be Roundup Ready in no time.