Good News, Bad News, Who Knows?

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about unapproved GMO wheat that was found on an Oregon farm.  At this point it’s a big mystery how this happened, as this particular GMO wheat was last tested by Monsanto in a ‘controlled’ setting in 2005.

From what I’ve observed so far, most in the organic industry are initially viewing this as a potentially catastrophic event, claiming that drift from GMOs is more widespread than we previously thought and that GMO contamination of organic fields is inevitable.


Indeed, it is quite unsettling that this wheat has so randomly turned up- and makes me wonder how (in the hell!?) the courts have yet to make Monsanto and others who hold the patents to GMO crops liable for cross-contamination.

However, is this incident bad news?  It feels like it.  Our first reaction to news like this is usually based on fear- fear of the unknown.  But to know if something is truly bad, time must pass.This classic story of the Chinese rice farmer illustrates this point perfectly…

A farmer’s only horse ran away. The neighbors, trying to console him, said, “What terrible news about your horse. What will you do?” But the farmer said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

A few days later, the horse returned, leading an entire herd of wild horses. The neighbors exclaimed, “How wonderful!” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news… who knows?”

The next day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the new horses. The horse threw the son, who broke both legs. The neighbors said, “What a misfortune! Your son won’t be able to work on the farm.” The farmer stood still and said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

Within the week, news of a war had broken out.  Soldiers arrived in the village, taking new recruits.  All the young men were drafted to fight, except for the farmer’s son.

From the WaPo article:

“The discovery could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. wheat industry if the growth of the engineered product turns out to be far-flung. Many countries around the world will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the United States exports about half of its wheat crop.”

cargoI contend that this event could actually be good news- it could be a paradigm shift that favors the non-GMO movement.  As an entire commodity industry is now threatened with losing its export business, we in the organics industry could be gaining some substantial allies.  Cargill, for example, might be quite concerned at this point, as they are responsible for 25% of the US’s grain exports.  Imagine Cargill’s export lobby and Monsanto’s GMO lobby battling against each other….

Good news?  Bad news?  Who Knows?

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7 Responses to Good News, Bad News, Who Knows?

  1. John Tomlin says:

    Just heard this morning that Japan will no longer accept American wheat imports because of this issue. In addition to this wheat, how many other GMOs have “escaped” into the environment? If Congress wants to investigate something worth while for a change, get those Monsanto folks on the stand.

  2. Scott says:

    The ripple effect- nationwide GMO testing begins…

    Non-GMO label assists feds with GE wheat investigation; starts nationwide testing for contamination
    Fastest growing label claim says testing of wheat products to start Thursday

    by Sustainable Food News
    May 30, 2013

    The group behind the Non-GMO Verified seal, the fastest-growing food label claim on the market, announced late Wednesday it will assist in the federal government’s investigation of genetically engineered wheat discovered on an Oregon farm by immediately testing samples of wheat products sold nationwide at retail to gauge the extent of contamination.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture said earlier Wednesday GE wheat was found on an Oregon farm, despite the fact no GE wheat varieties are approved for sale in the United States, or anywhere around the world.

    The agency said testing indicated the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that biotech giant Monsanto Company was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.

    The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it has “no information that this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety has entered commerce.”

    The Berkeley, Calif.-based Non-GMO Project said it was assisting the Agriculture Department by “coordinating a surveillance testing strategy to help assess the extent of the contamination.”

    The testing plan includes sampling wheat products from the national retail market as well as raw plant material directly from Oregon, the group said. The first tests are scheduled for Thursday.

    The USDA said there is no public health concern, as the GE wheat variety recently found is as safe as non-GE wheat currently sold in the market because previous tests by the Food and Drug Administration of Monsanto’s GE wheat variety showed no human health impact.

    The Berkeley, Calif.-based Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit created by leaders in the natural and organic food and beverage industry and offers the nation’s first and only third party verification program for items produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients like those derived from corn and soy.

    Due to cross-contamination and pollen drift, very few products in the U.S. are completely free of GMOs. Manufacturers earn the Non-GMO Project Verified seal through compliance with GMO avoidance standards, including ingredient testing, as part of the nation’s first third party non-GMO verification program.

    To date, over 700 brands and more than 9,000 organic and natural food products are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program (PVP), the nation’s first and only third party verification program designed to test whether a product has met a set of defined standards for the presence of GMOs.

    The Project reported a 50 percent increase in the number of product enrollments during the last quarter of 2012, and recently said sales of Non-GMO Project Verified products are approaching the $3 billion mark, up nearly 200 percent over a year ago. And that’s not including sales of Whole Foods Market’s private label 365 brand products that carry the Non-GMO seal.

    “Our priority right now is to assure the integrity of Non-GMO Project Verified products and to assist in the USDA’s investigation,” said Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. “The current situation is yet another reminder of the serious risks posed by open-air field trials of unapproved GMO crops.”

    APHIS said, to its knowledge, “GE wheat is not currently authorized for commercial sale or planting in any country,” but cited decade-old discussions among global wheat industry stakeholders about when GE wheat varieties might be commercially introduced into the worldwide marketplace.”

    According to the Oregon Wheat Commission, Oregon exports 90 percent of its wheat production. So, the worldwide impact of the GE wheat discovery?

    “We don’t wish to speculate on market reaction. As both a leading producer and consumer of wheat, the United States is directly aware of the concerns that an event like this could raise in the food/feed supply chain, from seed producers and farmers to retailers and consumers,” the agency said. “We are working hard to reassure domestic and global wheat consumers that this development, although unwelcome, does not pose a risk to food safety.”

    The Project said widespread GMO contamination in wheat would have serious repercussions for the domestic market.

    “We remain hopeful that this is an isolated incident, but the Non-GMO Project will do whatever it takes to protect the consumer’s right to know,” Westgate said.

    The Project pointed out this is not the first time a U.S. crop has been contaminated by an unapproved GMO. In August 2006, the USDA announced Bayer’s GE LibertyLink rice was found in two popular varieties of U.S. long-grain rice.

    The discovery led to rejection by foreign markets and a corresponding dramatic decline in U.S. rice prices. The LibertyLink contamination eventually resulted in a $750 million legal settlement between Germany-based Bayer AG and its affiliates and U.S. rice farmers.

  3. CAS says:

    I’ll finish reading your second post in a moment, but I wanted to say that I really enjoyed the story you posted within the first post re: Bad News, Good News, Who Knows. Appropriate!

  4. Kathleen loves lepidoptera says:

    The Friday, May 31 morning print edition contained a slightly different version of the article. The last few paragraphs have these statements-

    “Monsanto and other companies in the industry have been pressing members of Congress to vote against measures that would require disclosure for food made with genetically modified or engineered crops.”


    “Monsanto is also urging lawmakers to vote for a rider in the Senate continuing resolution that would strip federal courts of the power to provide injunctive relief to environmental and food activists seeking to stop the spread of such crops.”

    Scott, you should pick up a copy of yesterday’s Post.

  5. Renee says:

    Thank you Scott! I am making Good news, Bad news, Who knows? my motto.

  6. Carol says:

    I would like to see GMO-laden cooked foods delivered to the House and Senate, free of charge. These “free” foods could be available in the Senate Dining Room and other special dining locations.

    GMO contamination is in tune with the ongoing Worldwide contamination of our biosphere.

  7. Matt says:

    Given how smart you have to be to “genetically engineer a crop” don’t you have to wonder if this isn’t the actual experiment they started back in the late 90’s/early 00’s? I mean that they wanted to see if this gene would spread “in the wild” like this. It’s very difficult to imagine any of those folks being surprised at this outcome. Could one simultaneously be both that smart and that dumb on the same topic?

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