A coalition of food processors, ag groups and seed companies Wednesday called on the USDA to enhance oversight of experimental trials involving genetically engineered crops.
The groups say the May, 2013, discovery of unauthorized genetically engineered wheat underscores the difficulty of containing GE crops and the "inadequacy of U.S. policy to protect vulnerable markets that reject GE wheat."
"The economic impacts of the GE wheat discovery in Oregon were immediate," says Clint Lindsey, an Oregon wheat grower who sells to a grain exporter that serves Japan. Lindsey's shipments were temporarily put on hold after the unapproved wheat was found.
Japan last month resumed shipments of wheat from the United States after USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection service announced no new instances of GE wheat have been identified either growing or in commerce. Japan's ministry of agriculture also cleared commercial supplies using its own testing methods.
However, Lindsey says his customers are still asking about measures exporters are taking to ensure U.S. wheat doesn't include GE material. "We are the ones who have to pay for testing, which increases our costs. The threat of contamination also undermines the credibility of our business," he contends.
To address the issue, the coalition last week met with USDA Secretary Vilsack to discuss their suggestions for improving GE trial oversight, including:
-USDA should halt new approvals of GE wheat field trials at least until the Oregon contamination investigation is complete;
-USDA should fully implement recommendations made by investigative bodies and Congress that aim to improve field trial oversight;
-USDA should publish a final report detailing the department's investigation into the Oregon wheat event, including sampling and testing methodologies;
-Before approving field trials, USDA should have the appropriate tools in hand to test for unapproved GE traits in cases of suspected and confirmed contamination events; and
-USDA should require mandated containment protocols for all GE crop field trials.
"We are grateful that Secretary Vilsack is taking seriously our concerns and recommendations regarding the department's oversight of GE crop field trials," says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications for Organic Seed Alliance.
"Protecting the genetic integrity of seed and crops must begin at the field trial stage. We hope the department moves forward in fully implementing necessary improvements to protect American farmers and the markets they serve. But these improvements will only be as strong as the department's oversight and enforcement."
"This is an issue that affects all farmers, regardless of convention and their markets," Hubbard says.
More than 400 field trials of GE wheat have been approved across the U.S. over the last two decades, the coalition adds.
Click here to view the letter and full list of its signatories.
Catch up on the GE Wheat story:
August 13, 2013: Washington State University Tests Find No GM Wheat
July 31, 2013: USDA Continues GM Wheat Investigation as Japan Lifts Import Ban
June 24, 2013: Monsanto Says GM Wheat Release Remains 'Suspicious'
June 19, 2013: U.S. Representative Wants Answers on GE Wheat
June 17, 2013: USDA GE Wheat Investigation Continues
June 6, 2013: Monsanto Not Ruling Out 'Purposeful' Release of GE Wheat
June 5, 2013: GMO Wheat Discovery Yields Lawsuit
May 31, 2013: GE Wheat Investigation Will Take Time, USDA Says
May 29, 2013: USDA Identifies GE Glyphosate-Resistant Volunteer Wheat