USDA responds to demands to regulate GE wheat field trials

In October, U.S. Department of Agriculture responded to demands from WORC members and a coalition of allies to require biotech companies testing genetically engineered wheat to apply for a permit for outdoor field trials, which is more rigorous than the current system of notifying the agency of field trials.  Wheat producers in Northern Plains states desperately need improved federal oversight of outdoor field trials to prevent GE material from contaminating their wheat supply.

In the past two years, USDA twice discovered unapproved GE wheat growing in fields — once in Oregon and another in Montana. USDA has yet to figure out how the illegal GE volunteer wheat got there. Wheat farm families immediately felt the impact of the accidents. After the Oregon incident, Japan stopped a shipment of U.S. wheat and Korea began testing every shipment of wheat we sent for GE contamination. Farmers lost millions.

Waller Family, Circle, Montana
Waller Family, Northern Plains Resource Council members and wheat growers from Circle, Montana

USDA’s proposal to require permits would improve regulatory oversight of GE wheat field trials, including requiring inspections of field sites, and more stringent monitoring of volunteers, though permits alone are not enough. A 2015 Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit found that USDA’s regulations and oversight of GE crops are inadequate to prevent contamination.

Over a decade ago, WORC members and wheat producers across the Northern Plains forced Monsanto to shelve its development of GE wheat. GE wheat still remains illegal – and unwanted by consumers or producers – in every country in the world, especially the nations that purchase the bulk of wheat grown in our region. Even a hint of GE contamination in our wheat can disrupt the market and cost wheat growing families millions and the trust of their buyers.

Despite the risk to the $8 billion dollar U.S. wheat market, biotech companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have been planting acres of open-air GE wheat field trials in North Dakota, Montana and elsewhere for the past few years. In 2015, biotech developers notified USDA of 620 acres of GE wheat field trials.

Foreign buyers of US wheat have made it clear if the US deregulates and grows GE wheat, they will purchase all of their wheat from other countries where no GE wheat is grown.  

Read the letter from the Organic Seed Alliance that WORC and 60 food and agriculture organizations and businesses sent to USDA supporting the proposed permit process, but also calling on the agency to:

  • Issue a moratorium on GE wheat field trials until regulatory improvements are made;
  • Require biotech companies to notify nearby growers and state departments of agriculture about the location and duration of field trials; and
  • Hold biotech GE crop developers liable for problems and damages resulting from their products.

Learn more by downloading WORC’s Fact Sheet: GM wheat is a threat to Northern Plains’ wheat producers (PDF)