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Unlicensed GM Wheat Contaminates US Farm

Immediate release (30 May 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

US regulators announced yesterday that unauthorised GM Roundup Ready (RR) wheat was found growing on a farm in Oregon. [1]

The incident coincides with the second year of GM wheat trials at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire. It reinforces GM Freeze’s objection to the trials on grounds that include the risk of the trial crops contaminating non-GM wheat varieties and the additional complications to UK wheat supplies that would be caused by measures to prevent GM contamination if commercial growing took place.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) launched an investigation after wheat plants survived being sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (active ingredient glyphosate). Analysts at Oregon State University confirmed the presence of GM glyphosate tolerance traits in the wheat. So far no data on the levels of contamination have been released, and there is no evidence that contaminated wheat grains have entered the market.

How the contaminated plants got onto the farm remains a complete mystery. No GM wheat is authorised for commercial growing in the US. The USDA has not approved any test sites for the GM wheat found in Oregon, but 100 test sites of the same wheat were grown in 16 US states between 1998 and 2005. [2]

The GM contamination of Oregon wheat has the potential to seriously disrupt exports. APHIS says Oregon exports 90% of its wheat, some of which goes to food aid. All states where the GM wheat was grown experimentally will need urgently to check grain and crops for contamination. USDA and APHIS issued a statement saying the RR GM trait in the wheat is “as safe” as conventional wheat, an assertion based on data provided by Monsanto. [1] No full safety assessment has been carried out on the GM wheat.

The EU does not permit the import of unauthorised GM traits in food at any level, although up to 0.1% is allowed in animal feed if the GM variety is approved in other countries or an application to the EU has been reviewed by the European Food Safety Agency. This exemption does not apply to the Oregon wheat contamination because it is not approved in the US or anywhere in the world, and no application has been made to the EU. [3] Any contaminated cargoes would therefore be turned back at EU ports.

This incident closely echoes the 2006 contamination incident in which Bayer’s experimental rice LL601 caused widespread contamination of US long grain rice despite the variety only having been grown in test sites up to 2001. That GM contamination seriously disrupted US exports for months and resulted in a series of lawsuits against Bayer, which was ordered to pay millions in compensation to thousands of farmers. The cause of the rice contamination was never established because of poor recordkeeping on the experimental sites. [4]

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

There is a real sense of déjà vu about this situation after the very costly and disruptive incident involving US GM rice in 2006. An urgent investigation needs to try to understand how the GM wheat came to grow in Oregon, and a swift and thorough cleanup is needed to prevent the contamination spreading – if it hasn’t already. Port authorities right across the world need to be on alert and closely monitor US wheat shipments to ensure all GM wheat is detected and prevented from entering the market.

European and UK regulators should take careful note of what has happened in Oregon. GM Freeze has repeatedly pointed out that coexistence of GM and non-GM crops without contamination is almost impossible because of the difficulties in containing GM pollen and seeds and the fact that human error can never be eliminated. So far biotech companies refuse to accept liability for the contamination they cause, so farmers suffering economic losses have to go to court to get help.

GM wheat is not needed, not wanted by shoppers and presents a further intensification of food production that will only cause more problems. The Oregon incident could easily be repeated here if Europe were crazy enough to allow the widespread testing and commercial growing of GM wheat.

ENDs

Notes

[1] USDA APHIS, 29 May 2013. “Investigating Decetions of Genetically Engineered (GE) Glyphosate-resistant wheat in Oregon

[2] USDA APHIS, 29 May 2013. “Questions and Answers: USDA investigating detection of positive genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant Wheat in Oregon

[3] Reuters, 24 June 2011. “EU allows unapproved GM material in feed imports

and

GM Freeze, 12 November 2010. “Zero Should Mean Zero – No imports of untested GMOs

[4] GM Freeze, 31 July 2010. GM in The Dock: US Courts step in where regulators fail – Briefing III: Bayer brought to book for contaminating rice

and

GM Freeze, 31 May 2007. GM Contamination: Imports of food and feed at risk – measures needed to reduce the threat