Dozens of farm organizations, food processors, millers, retail companies, bakeries, and seed businesses have signed a letter calling for improvements in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) oversight of experimental trials of genetically modified (GM) crops.
The letter, which calls for enforceable standards for confining GM crops, as well as active monitoring and testing to ensure compliance, was largely prompted by the USDA’s May 29 announcement that an Oregon farmer had mysteriously discovered unapproved GM wheat in his field. The contamination prompted Japan and South Korea to suspend U.S. wheat imports, while other Asian countries were carefully watching.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack insisted the Oregon discovery was an “isolated incident,” while Monsanto, which manufactured and conducted field trials of the GM wheat several years ago, suggested in a public conference call a week ago that the company was the victim of sabotage of anti-GM activists. “It's fair to say there are folks who don't like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to make problems,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's CTO.
Meanwhile, Monsanto executives and insiders are selling Monsanto stock in noteworthy volumes, trending the stock price downward. CEO Hugh Grant sold off 40,000 shares at $97.74, and Janet Holloway and Gerald Steiner – both high-level executives – recently unloaded more than 10,000 shares each, Mike Adams reported today in Natural News. Some hedge funds are also selling off Monsanto stock, most likely due to sharply increased "negative sentiment," Adams wrote.
Monsanto share prices (NYSE: MON) dipped to $94.81 in August, down 13.2 percent from a peak of $109.22 prior to the Oregon news in May. According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, 82 percent of Americans think GMO foods should be labeled, while a mere 9 percent say they shouldn’t.
More than 400 field trials of GM wheat have been approved by officials across the United States over the last two decades. However, the introduction of GM wheat was halted in the country 10 years ago due to market rejection abroad. Many U.S. food and beverage companies also reject GE wheat.
Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) became the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for full transparency on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The company plans to have all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores labeled for GMOs by 2018.
Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) began labeling its GM ingredients in March, and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, owned by Unliver (which despite its evangelized sustainability status has spent heavily to defeat GMO labeling laws) recently hatched a plan to completely eliminate all GMOs from its U.S. and Canadian product line by next year. Its products made in Europe are already non-GMO.
[pagebreak]Wheat harvests are in full swing as the USDA continues its secretive investigation into the Oregon contamination event. Todd Leake, a North Dakota conventional wheat grower who farms more than 2,000 acres, joined other growers in a meeting with Secretary Vilsack last week asking for a halt on GM wheat trials.
“It’s extremely important that the USDA moves to protect the conventional wheat industry from the threat of contamination,” Leake said. “Several GE wheat field trials are underway in North Dakota and have the potential to contaminate our spring wheat supply. Our export markets have zero tolerance for GE traits in our wheat products. They’re importation policies are not going to change. If another contamination event surfaces, the consequences would be devastating. We don’t want to lose our export markets to other countries.”
Kurt Staudter of the Vermont Brewers Association, which represents 30 breweries, said his members are deeply concerned about GM wheat making its way into the food supply. “Many of our members have been pioneers in the organic beer world, and they want to ensure sources of non-GE wheat are preserved to meet customer demand,“ Staudter said. “We don’t want wheat to follow the path of GE corn, where complete segregation has not been a reality.”
Steve Crider, a government and industry liaison for Amy’s Kitchen, added: “It's time for the U.S. to seriously evaluate how GE crops impact the markets we serve. These evaluations must begin before open-air field trials are allowed.”
“Annually, we use over 10 million pounds of organic wheat,” Crider said. “Therefore, the integrity of non-GMO wheat is essential to our continued success as a business. ‘GMO-free’ is what our customers demand and expect, both domestically here in the U.S. and our extensive export program abroad into Asia, the E.U., and the Middle East markets we serve.”
Ingredients labeled “organic” are legally required to be free of GMOs.
Slideshow photo by Preconscious Eye.