Early last year, an Oregon farmer noticed that a handful of wheat stalks were growing in his field. However, there was a problem: there wasn't supposed to be any wheat there. Seeing as the wheat was taking nutrients from his proper crop, he sprayed a bunch of herbicide onto his field to get rid of them. Except, when he went back to examine the results of his efforts, he noticed that some of the wheat didn't die.
The farmer took the immortal wheat to the University of Oregon to get it tested, and when they examined the DNA, they realized the mystery wheat contained the "Roundup-resistant" DNA that Monsanto genetically engineers. Great! Problem solved! Except, well, since the farmer didn't ever order any Monsanto GMO wheat, this was the beginning of a new problem.
While officials were quick to downplay the significance of the discovery (constantly reiterating that it was found "in a single field on a single farm," and there were no known health detriments to eating GMO wheat), the thing that was distressing was that this contaminated wheat came out of nowhere. The international wheat markets took notice right away:
The genetically modified grain was never approved for sale, and it's unwelcome in countries that buy U.S. grain. Since it was found in a commercial wheat field, foreign buyers worried that GM wheat might have contaminated the entire American harvest, just as unapproved GM rice did in 2006. Japan and South Korea stopped buying U.S. wheat for a time.
Soon enough, the markets returned to normal, but the mystery persisted. How did this rogue GMO wheat end up in this random field? The USDA began their search and, after a year of "thorough and scientifically detailed investigation," they finally released their findings this week:
APHIS closed the investigation after exhausting all leads.
In other words: Your guess is as good as ours. But that's not where the GMO wheat story ends, unfortunately. You see, the second part of that press release has to do with them moving their investigation to a second state where rogue GMO wheat has also been found:
APHIS has opened a new investigation into a regulatory compliance issue involving GE wheat found growing at a research facility that was the previous site of authorized field trials in Montana. Genetic testing shows that the GE wheat at this research facility location is significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.
In other words: Here we go again. And while it may easy to downplay the significance of a few scattered pieces of wheat, this is essentially the doomsday scenario that's been laid out by the anti-GMO contingent for years.
Remove, for the remainder of this article at least, the possible dangers that are associated with eating GMOs. The science behind such potential dangers (or lack thereof) quickly devolves into back-and-forth name-calling, anyway. Instead, this proliferation of unlicensed wheat is an example of the other issue that anti-GMO people focus on: The lack of containment.
The example that's used most often is the scenario of the Frankenfish Takeover. This has to do with the (inevitable) introduction of GMO salmon into the marketplace. These salmon are engineered to be stronger, larger, better in every way. And while the engineers behind the project guarantee they'll be kept securely in pools and vats far away from the rest of the water supply, all it takes is for one to slip through whatever netting's in place in order to create a global catastrophe.
If you introduce a species that's stronger, bigger, and faster into the wild, it's only a matter of time until other species are squeezed out of the equation. That's simple Darwinism at work. And when that happens, we'll have replaced the natural version of a species with our own modified one. The troubling implications of that should go without saying.
While this isn't quite what's happening yet in Oregon -- and, now, Montana -- the fact that the GMO wheat is spreading without any possibility of containment (or an understanding of where it originated from in the first place) is not a harbinger of positive things.
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