Last month, an unapproved variety of genetically engineered wheat was discovered growing in an Oregon field, creating a cascade of disconcerting, if not unforeseeable, consequences of Monsanto’s previous efforts to develop a Roundup resistant strain of wheat.
Tests confirmed the wheat growing in the Oregon field was a genetically modified strain developed by Monsanto to resist Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) tested by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Monsanto shelved their genetically engineered wheat in large part because of stiff resistance from farmers and their customers. Our good friends at Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota led that state in providing some of the most effective resistance in the nation.
Those North Dakota voices predicted what would happen if such an uncontrolled, unapproved release of genetically modified wheat occurred, all too prophetically. Japan quickly suspended some imports of US wheat, while the European Union and several Asian nations announced US wheat imports would undergo more rigorous testing. On May 31, South Korean millers announced that imports of US wheat were on hold.
While biotechnology has undeniably become a part of American agriculture, those farmers from North Dakota, Montana, Oregon and other wheat producing states also raised the undeniable fact that wheat is, in many fundamental ways, a different crop than corn and soybeans.
American wheat is far more likely to be used as a primary ingredient in human food and is far more likely than other crops to be exported to countries that have different attitudes than many Americans about the use of genetically modified crops in food.
Lawsuits in Kansas and Idaho and outspoken farmers are lighting a fire under Monsanto to put the genetically engineered wheat genie back in the bottle. We sincerely hope they can.
And we think listening to farmers just makes sense. I remember when Todd Leake, a wheat farmer and Dakota Resource Council member from Grand Forks County, North Dakota, told me, “We have no business commercializing or developing genetically modified wheat until our customers tell us that’s what they want.”
I’ve always tried to avoid disagreeing with Todd, especially when he’s right.
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