GM wheat find threatens economy

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 31, 2013 08:05 am

The discovery of genetically modified wheat in an Eastern Oregon field this spring poses a major threat, not to our health but to our economy.

In terms of quantity, the discovery was minor.

A wheat farmer found the plants in a field that is fallow this year, meaning it was not seeded to produce a crop to harvest.

The farmer, whose name and location have not been released to the public, became suspicious when a few of the wheat stalks that sprouted survived applications of the pesticide Roundup.

Pesticide-resistance is a trait of wheat varieties tested by Monsanto, the corporation heavily invested in GM technology (and also the creator of Roundup).

Scientists from Oregon State University and a federal agency confirmed that the wheat is a type that Monsanto tested in Oregon and several other states between 1998 and 2005.

That type was never approved (nor did Monsanto apply for permission to sell it) and it’s illegal to grow it commercially.

Officials are trying to figure out how the wheat ended up in the farmer’s field.

There’s no evidence that any GM wheat was ever harvested or ended up in food. In any case, experts say GM wheat doesn’t pose any health risks.

Trouble is, most of Oregon’s wheat crop is sold overseas, principally to Asia and Europe, and customers there don’t want GM crops.

Their fears aren’t rational, scientifically speaking, but as the saying goes, the customer is always right.

We hope state and federal officials can quickly finish their investigation and provide compelling evidence that Oregon’s wheat is GM-free.

Closing foreign markets would have a devastating effect on Oregon’s main wheat-growing region of the Columbia Basin. Umatilla County’s wheat crop in 2012 was worth $147.7 million, the largest share of Oregon’s $500 million wheat crop that year.

Wheat is a significant crop in Baker County as well.

In 2012 farmers here harvested wheat from 12,700 acres, mainly in Baker Valley, with a total value of $8.2 million. That’s 9 percent of the county’s farm and ranch sales in 2012.

It would be a disgrace if a vital segment of Oregon’s economy were harmed by phantom fears, but at this crucial point everyone can join, at least temporarily, the anti-GM movement.