United States wheat exports hit after discovery of contamination from abandoned Monsanto GM wheat field trials.
EXTRACT: Cynthia Sagers, an evolutionary ecologist who studies this issue says that controlling seed movement is a huge challenge and it is likely that this contamination might have happened in other areas as well. Dr.Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists has said that this wheat may have been inadvertently bred for the last many years. He added that many weeds may also have been pollinated by GM wheat.
United States wheat export in crisis after discovery of contamination from abandoned Monsanto Genetically Modified (GM) wheat field trials
Coalition for a GM-Free India, June 2 2013
New Delhi - Earlier this week the world woke up to the news that unapproved genetically modified(GM) herbicide tolerant(HT) wheat was found in Oregon state, US that led to an immediate reponse from its largest wheat importing partners.
Japan, one of the major importers of US wheat, cancelled a tender of white wheat from the US. Other major Asian wheat importers China, Philippines and South Korea said that they are monitoring the situation. Europe has declared that wheat from US will be tested at ports and if found contaminated will be rejected. The US Government is trying hard to allay the fears of its trade partners and wheat farmers are worried; the state of Oregon where the contamination was found, exports 90% of its wheat.
It was on May 30, 2013 that illegal herbicide tolerant (HT) genetically modified(GM) wheat resistant to RoundUp (the patented herbicide of Monsanto) was found in a farmer’s field in Oregon state last month. The wheat was tested by United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) and found to contain a strain of GM wheat developed by Monsanto, which had undergone field trials in numerous locations in the US a few years back. In Oregon state, where the contamination was found, the last field trials were conducted in 2001. Field trials of this GM wheat began in 1998 and were conducted in a number of states till 2005.[3,4] In 2005 Monsanto withdrew the GM wheat application, as opposition to it was heavy and it was estimated that there would be no market. As of [this] date, GM wheat is not approved for commercial planting or sale anywhere in the world.
Monsanto has stated that it is aware of the contamination incident and if true, the extent is very limited. Investigators from the USDA are collecting evidence trying to determine the extent of contamination and how the GM wheat strain has appeared eight years after the last field trials were abandoned. Scientists and civil society have time and again pointed out that GM contamination is a real threat – both from commercial cultivation and from open air field trials. Cynthia Sagers, an evolutionary ecologist who studies this issue says that controlling seed movement is a huge challenge and it is likely that this contamination might have happened in other areas as well. Dr.Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists has said that this wheat may have been inadvertently bred for the last many years. He added that many weeds may also have been pollinated by GM wheat.
The trade ramifications have sent jitters through the US farm sector, with wheat farmers fearing rejections, hence huge financial loss. This incident is similar to the GM rice incident which happened in 2006, with the LL601 ( Herbicide tolerant ) rice, developed by Bayer Crop Science, contaminating US long grained rice; again the source of contamination was open air field trials. Numerous countries suspended imports of US long-grained rice and rice farmers suffered catastrophic economic losses. Finally after losing numerous cases against affected farmers Bayer made an out of court settlement of 750 million US dollars.
This contamination incident is a warning for India , wheat is an important grain for India and we also export wheat. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), had approved field trials of herbicide tolerant (HT) GM wheat developed by Mahyco , during its 114th meeting, December 14, 2011. The approval was granted by GEAC for field trials during appropriate seasons in 2011-12 in the Mahyco Research farm in Jalna, Maharashtra. However, the Maharashtra state government has not granted NOC for the field trial. Further, another application from Mahyco for GM wheat field trial was listed for consideration during the GEAC meeting 117 on March 22, 2103.
In this context it is pertinent to highlight that both the Parliamentary Standing Committee(PSC) in its report, tabled in Parliament, in August 2012, had raised concerns about open air field trials of GM crops and recommended that open air field trials be stopped. Later, the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court had in their interim report, recommended the stopping of any open release of HT crops like RR wheat that had been approved for field trials, untill a thorough enquiry is done on the health, environmental and socioeconomic impact of these GM crops are assessed by an independent agency set up by the government. The present incidence only reiterates that the possibility of contamination even in a highly regulated country like US was unavoidable, and worst has huge trade and financial implications.
It would only be wise for a country like India, with a very fragile agriculture sector to stop GM crop research and open field trials now.
For more information contact : Sridhar Radhakrishnan (09995358205)
6 Dr.Sagers had spoken at a conference on “Can GM crops meet India’s food security and export needs?” in Hyderabad, India in September 2012 .
8 Dr.Gurian-Sherman had spoken at a conference “Can GM crops meet India’s food security and export needs?” in Hyderabad, India in September 2012
Sridhar Radhakrishnan: 9995358205
Pankaj Bhushan : 9472999999
Coalition for a GM-Free India