Monsanto Unapproved GMO Wheat Escapes From The Lab, Lawsuits Follow

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Monsanto_#1 BIG

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, recently reported the finding of unapproved genetically modified wheat in an Oregon field—and nobody knows where it came from. This is of concern, especially to farmers, but raises a larger question too. If genetic modification is the future, how will we control our creations?

The wheat at the center of this mystery was genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. The Oregon farmer discovered the plants growing in a fallow field and tried to kill them with the widely-used herbicide. When they survived, he sent samples to Oregon State University where tests revealed it had been genetically modified to contain a Roundup resistant CP4/maize EPSPS gene. The USDA later confirmed these findings.

Although Monsanto got FDA approval for the wheat in food, they withdrew their EPA application in 2004, due to farmers worried about the potential loss of markets in Europe and Asia. The firm ended field trials and never marketed the product.

Monsanto_#4Since the wheat was found and tested, Monsanto has been on the offensive to control what’s fast became a public relations mess.

Chief technology officer, Robb Fraley, noted to the press that the unapproved plants were found growing on less than one percent of the farmer’s 125-acre field, and Monsanto’s subsequent tests showed no sign of cross-contamination.

“It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field.”

The firm stopped planting Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon over 12 years ago, the seeds are only viable for two years in the soil, and this is the first incident since trials ended in 2005. Monsanto isn’t implicating the farmer, but they aren’t ruling out a deliberate act of sabotage by someone else.

Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have postponed imports of US white wheat from the region while they continue to study information from US officials. Meanwhile, citing economic damages, Monsanto has been sued by an environmental group and Washington farm and another group in Kansas.

Heading up the Washington lawsuit, the Center for Food Safety stated, “Because scheduled shipments already have been postponed and canceled, the presence of genetically engineered wheat has detrimentally impacted the domestic and global wheat markets and damaged plaintiffs and other wheat farmers.”

Monsanto_#3Whether Monsanto is to blame or they’re the victim—how we control genetically modified plants or other organisms is a futuristic debate beginning in the here and now.

There are benefits to genetically modified crops. These include resistance to herbicides, diseases, and pests, better yield, increased shelf-life, and the potential for biofuel production. But opponents question whether genetically modified crops are safe, environmentally friendly, and whether genetically modified crops are really needed to address the world's food needs.

Although, in this case, it appears the wheat did not spread, it can be difficult to predict the impact genetically modified organisms will have once released into the world at large.

It’s generally in Monsanto’s interest to avoid such errors. But clearly they are not immune. And perhaps a worse outcome is when the Monsantos of the world lose control of their product, inadvertently or via sabotage, as appears happened in this case.

With rapid advancement of knowledge and expertise in biotechnology, there’s great potential to do good. However, incidents like this underline the fact that no good thing is risk-free. As genetic modification continues, expect more such controversies—and hopefully, in their wake, better safeguards.

Image Credit: Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr (banner, featured), Rae Allen/Flickr (body), Dag Endresen/Flickr (body)

Ian Anglin

Dr. Ian Anglin obtained his Ph.D. in molecular pathology from the University of Wales, College of Medicine in the United Kingdom. While writing his thesis entitled ‘Identification of Differential Gene Expression During Prostate Cancer Progression’ he contributed to a paper published in the International Journal of Cancer. Subsequently, Dr. Anglin pursued postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, Baltimore in various research departments including the Division of Urology, the Greenebaum Cancer Research Center and at the BioPark Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases. During his 10 years there, he mentored students, contributed to NIH grants, presented data at various scientific meetings, was awarded an AFUD scholarship and won a Gordon Research Conference Travel scholarship. He has published in Cancer Research, Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, British Journal of Cancer and a book chapter in ‘Molecular Targeting and Signal Transduction’ edited by Dr. Rakesh Kumar.

Dr. Anglin currently resides in Baltimore MD where he is working as a freelance scientific editor for various online companies providing substantive and copyediting services.

Discussion — 16 Responses

  • DWS July 2, 2013 on 2:10 pm

    There is nothing good about GMO’s for the consumer, the only good is for the corporations who make them, and that is only temporary, until the lies about the supposed increased yield and increased used of pesticide start to unravel. A recent study from Canterbury University in the UK has just shown GMO’s are LESS efficient than tradition crops, are MORE susceptible to harsh environments and weather, and use MORE pesticide.

    • Che Mort DWS July 2, 2013 on 2:31 pm

      I wouldn’t go that far, golden rice with vit A has a huge benefit for consumers especially in developing nations. Its not that all GMOS are inherently bad, it is that the science has gone forward too fast and there are those ideologically addicted to evil ideas, such as putting sterilizing agents in crops or in impairing the human immune systems and making all of us more susceptible to disease and death. This is a real possibility.

      • DWS Che Mort July 2, 2013 on 2:41 pm

        I will stick by what I said. GMO technology is based on the fallacious idea that one gene controls one feature, and this we now know is completely wrong. All genes operate in an orchestra with each other and their environment. Changing one single gene can have disasterous knock-on effects that can never be predicted, and can only be tested using full life cycle, multi-generation studies. These have not been done. We may never know the true consequences for several generations, and all the while GMOs are not required to be labelled in the US, there can never be any direct causal link to health problems that are currently happening.

        People are far too gullible, and are completely oblivious to how easy it is for very wealthy corporations to manipulate the outcomes of trials, tell outrageous lies and bribe governments to create a market for a dangerous product. This is done routinely by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the biotech industry.

        • Anders Kehlet DWS July 4, 2013 on 11:28 am

          What health problems could GMOs possibly cause?

          • DWS Anders Kehlet July 4, 2013 on 11:41 am

            For a start, the most popular GMOs are the “Round Up Ready” variety, which are designed to resist being sprayed with huge amounts of glyphosate, thereby increasing the amount of residue left on the crop. This chemical has been linked with a large number of health issues

            Then there is the very worrying Seralini rat study which shows that rats fed GMO corn for their entire lives develop tumours and organ defects, which just happen to appear after 3 months or so, just after the 90 day trials that Monsanto did – almost as if Monsanto knew about this, and so shortened the length of the trial.

      • Scribe Che Mort July 8, 2013 on 3:31 pm

        Carrots have more vitamin A than that GMO-garbage.

        • ted thync Scribe July 15, 2013 on 4:30 pm

          Much of the world doesn’t have access to carrots, hence the widespread misery from vitamin A deficiency. Attempting to bolster carotene in rice is a pretty noble cause. I hope it succeeds. If you fear GMO foods, simply but organic or grow your own – problem solved. Why impose your beliefs on others?

          • DWS ted thync July 16, 2013 on 3:14 am

            The problem is, yo are assuming we know all the facts about vitamin A. What if there are other vitamins that we haven’t discovered yet that are more important than vitamin A? We barely know how some of the most complex organs work like the brain and liver, yet some arrogant biotech scientists think they can tinker with genes to make new food. The mind boggles at how stupid this is.

            Humans are the only species smart enough to make their own food, and stupid enough to eat it!

  • Lin Plays July 2, 2013 on 6:25 pm

    Monsanto – YOU LIARS!!!! You did it to see if you could get away with it!!!!
    It didn’t escape from the lab. You let it out to sabotage & contaminate non-monsanto fields on purpose.

  • ted thync July 15, 2013 on 1:30 pm

    Please cite at least a single reference that credibly documents harm to any human or other animal due to GMO crops or food. This site seems dedicated to the reality-based community, rather than the faith-based community. As such, innuendo, speculation (without supportive documentation) and demagoguery will be challenged. Contrary to oppositional assertions, GMO crops and foods have been studied a lot and are as safe as conventional crops and food.

    • DWS ted thync July 16, 2013 on 10:53 am

      Are you naive enough to think that ONLY studies that are paid for by the industry itself are the only ones that count? Are you naive enough to think that the Seralini rat study last year does not count, because it was independent? What about the Canterbury University study last month, which showed that GMO farming is actually less efficient than conventional farming?

      What you fail to realize is that when an industry get as big and powerful as the biotech industry, and have been around long enough, like Monsanto, that they are able to exert influence on all areas of government, journalism and scientific review. The can buy entire governments, and control which studies get funded.

      As a case-in-point, I forget the names (but you can look it up), about a decade ago, the Blair government in the UK comissioned a world renown scientist from a Scottish university. They were given a budget of about £3million, and were tasked with evaluating the safety of GMO’s, as a precursor to allowing them into the UK. At the end of the study, the conclusion was that they were not safe. Initially the research team were seen as heros for making the discovery. Then a day later, the University received a call from the Blair office, and the lead scientist lost his job, and the study was ignored.

      Do you really think that if a company has the power to make something like that happen, that they wouldn’t be able to manipulate all the regulators who have anything to do with deciding which studies are considered legitimate, and which are junk?

      And don’t you think that as soon as a study is released showing negative health impacts of GMO’s, that immediately, hundreds of biotech staff get to work to pull it apart and discredit it somehow. As in a court of law, it’s rarely the righteous who wins, but the one with the biggest budget.

      Now have a look at ALL the GMO studies, and remove any study that was paid for by the industry itself. I think you will see a different picture. This is how the Cochrane Institue evaluate their metastudies, knowing that industry-funded means pretty much worthless. The entire pharma industry is built on the same fallacy, and goes a long way to explaining the reason why the country who pays, by far, the most for healthcare, has such poor health.

      If you don’t see this, then you are indeed dangerously naive!

      • Facebook - jcrjohnson DWS November 25, 2013 on 7:54 am

        Simply citing Seralini removes you from any rational debate on the subject.

        The man is a charlatan of the first order who deliberately constructed a “study” to produce the results he wanted. Seralini is either a mentally unbalanced ideologue who knows he can’t actually prove GMOs have health concerns, but feels justified in telling a “noble lie” to gather useful idiots to his cause… or he is a sociopath who doesn’t care what damage he does to the world, so long as he can sell a few hundred thousand dollars worth of faked findings and empty rhetoric pandering to fear and ignorance.

        • DWS Facebook - jcrjohnson November 25, 2013 on 8:13 am

          Simply stating that “Seralini is a charlatan”, without demonstratiing any motive or evidence removes YOU from any rational debate. You are either a complete idiot, or you are a paid troll working for a biotech PR company. I suspect paid troll, as that is very common, but then again, so is extreme stupidity.

  • Camerique July 16, 2013 on 8:27 am

    Those bastards at Monsatano shouldn’t even be messing around with wheat. GMO’s cause cancer, and humanity is doomed if GMO wheat continues. Smarter countries than the U.S. are banning their use and import.

  • SpiderBooty July 24, 2013 on 12:28 am

    Alot of the people who seem to be very critical of GMOs and whether or not they are harmful or not are very science based, I’ve noticed. The topic of GMOs cannot be approached without Monsanto – I feel like GMOs has become MUCH more of a political matter rather than a science-based one (as there is corruption).
    Maybe GMOs will be a good science one day…. in the next hundred years. Right now their methods of inserting a foreign gene are too basic/uneducated/preliminary. It needs A LOT more time.
    They shouldn’t push it onto all of North America’s plates. It’s in so much food now – cereal, bread, candy, you name it it’s in it.