Unapproved GMO Wheat Mystery: How Did It Sprout Up?

The origins of illegal GMO wheat found growing on an Oregon farm still puzzle investigators. This discovery led to an international scandal, with Japan and South Korea banning the importation of U.S. wheat due to their opposition to GMO foods. The big question remains: Where did the illegal wheat come from?

USDA investigators traced the genetically modified wheat to a variety called MON71800, which Monsanto claims to have developed eight years ago and then discontinued. Monsanto has never received approval to sell GMO wheat on the open market. The company maintains that all the seed from its experiments with MON71800 has been destroyed or locked up in the company’s seed vaults.

Monsanto Points to Sabotage

Monsanto claims that saboteurs, aiming to ruin Monsanto’s reputation, covertly planted the seeds to create controversy. The corporation’s chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, says, “There are folks who don’t like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to create problems.”

But Nature takes issue with Monsanto’s claims. Norman Ellstrand, a plant biologist at the University of California, Riverside, told Nature, “I suppose it’s possible, but it’s a very small possibility.”

Environmental Concerns

Another plausible theory is that some of Monsanto’s field-tested seeds simply escaped into the environment. Carol Mallory-Smith, an Oregon State University scientist participating in testing the GMO wheat said, “Once we release these genes into the field, we should just assume that they are going to stay in the environment.”

Indeed, GMO crops have become more prevalent and can be found in surprising places. In 2009, Mallory-Smith discovered GMO sugar-beet seedlings sprouting in bags of soil sold at a garden shop. She points out the many opportunities for errors in the process.

Genetic Contamination

One of the biggest concerns, besides the immediate fallout of the Oregon GMO event, is the potential for genetic contamination. With GMO pollen freely carried by the wind, it’s not hard to imagine cross-pollination among GMO and non-GMO crops.

A study published in the journal Science showed that even in controlled conditions, GMO pollen travels further than expected, leading some to believe that cross-pollination may be inevitable. This scenario becomes even more worrisome when considering the potential spread of herbicide-resistant genes, a trait of which some of the illegal Oregon GMO wheat was found to possess.

The Legal Challenges

Farmers and agricultural experts are concerned about the legal implications of the accidental spread of GMO seeds which could subject innocent farmers to potential lawsuits. Monsanto has been notorious for legal action against farmers whose crops contained traces of their patented seed – whether intentional or not.

This legal limbo forces some farmers into challenging positions and may cost them dearly in legal fees and other expenses. While Monsanto insists that such legal actions protect their investment in research and development, the potential for more undiscovered GMO crops in farmers’ fields remains a contentious issue.

What This Means for Future Crop Management

In conclusion, the case of the illegal Oregon GMO wheat shows just how easily genetically engineered material can spread and enter the human food chain. It raises serious questions about the ability of regulation to prevent contamination and demonstrates the potential threats to farmers who may find themselves unwittingly cultivating genetically engineered crops.

Lastly, it underscores the importance of continuous monitoring of our agricultural environment. As for now, the mystery of the illegal GMO wheat found in Oregon remains revolving around two possibilities – either it was a deliberate act of sabotage or the seeds simply escaped into the environment. Regardless of its origin, this event highlights that the GMO genie, once out of the bottle, is almost impossible to put back in.