GMO Food

Was the Biotech Wheat Found in Oregon Surreptitiously Sowed by Anti-GMO Activists?


GE wheat
Credit: Mitarart: Dreamstime

Glibert Ross, who works with the American Council on Science and Health has published an op-ed today over at Canada's Financial Post suggesting possible activist involvement: 

There is no other explanation for the Oregon discovery. Roundup is Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide or weed-killer, among the commonest used since 1974; a Roundup Ready crop means it is gene-spliced to be resistant to the chemical, while the target weeds are killed by it. Monsanto has strenuously denied having any RR wheat trials in Oregon over the past nine years, and tests of over 30,000 wheat specimens in that region in 2011 showed no evidence of the trait.

So what's behind this bizarre appearance of RR wheat? The FDA said it poses no threat to man, beast or the environment. It's safe, just like the yields of the 400-million acres of GM-crops (over one-tenth of the world's acreage) harvested in 2011. In fact, since the beginning of the "biotech revolution" in 1996, as GM harvests have spread worldwide and accelerated, there has never been one instance of adverse health or environmental effects caused by biotech crops or products.

Activists stridently opposed to biotechnology would understandably want to make a big deal out of this event. The issue is driven solely by money, not science. It is a battle being fought by those who want to reverse real progress, based upon their anti-big business agenda and to promote their own organic mega-businesses.These are the same folks who, while posing as crusaders for "public health," are endeavouring even now to label foods with GM-ingredients, scaring consumers away from perfectly safe products towards their pet organic foods.

If it is impossible for GM wheat to have somehow migrated to that particular isolated farm, or to have spontaneously mutated, there could be only one logical explanation: an intentional surreptitious sowing of rogue RR wheat seeds for the purpose of promoting fear and suspicion of all gene-spliced products. This sort of agenda and tactics have won the day in Europe, which has adopted a Dark Ages approach to biotech agriculture, with activists burning GM crops like their forebears did to witches and infidels before the Age of Reason, screaming "frankenfood" as they do.

As I noted when I reported the incident in my post, "So What if Unregulated Genetically Engineered Wheat Is Found Growing on a Farm in Oregon?":

Nobody knows yet how the herbicide resistant wheat got into the farmer's fields in Oregon but, I, for one, am very curious about who the farmer will turn out to be.

I still am.

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  1. I didn’t get a response from Ron when I posted this on his previous article, and I’m genuinely interested in hearing what he has to say:

    There is a property rights issue here which isn’t being addressed, namely that damages to existing crops can result from simply farming in proximity to these seeds.

    Imagine: There’s a Pepsi factory sitting on a lot, and Coke builds a factory right next to it, making a new kind of coke, which tastes better, and is much cheaper to manufacture, but which has the unfortunate side effect of escaped Coke gases rendering any Pepsi instantly into a 50/50 mixture of Coke/Pepsi. Should the Pepsi factory be able to sue for damages to its product?

    It’s a legitimate concern which seems to mirror nicely the conflict between existing growers and those choosing to switch to the Monsanto seeds.

    1. And for the record I’m not anti-GMO, just concerned that property rights of those choosing to forego GMO are not being viewed in their proper perspective.

      1. I don’t know enough about farming, but is this really an issue? Are farmers using last years wheat to get seeds for the current crop, or are they buying seed from other locations? You bring up an interesting point, but I’m just not sure how relevant it is.

        1. I would like to hear from some farmers on this. Is setting aside a certain percentage of crops for seed even being done anymore?

          1. I would say that it is not uncommon, but probably not a very large percentage. On my farm I do grow and save my own small grain cereals (barley, wheat, rye) and clover, but not corn or soybeans. In the case of soybeans, all the soybeans I plant are GMO (roundup-ready) and thus saving that grain for seed is illegal. In the case of corn, all of the corn I plant is hybridized, and so planting the resulting seed will not produce a plant with similar characteristics as what was harvested. Neither issue exists for the crops I grow for seed.

            My question is how did this get discovered now? Wheat harvest is not underway. How is it that out of the thousands of acres of Wheat in Oregon, somehow this one 80 acre field is stumbled upon containing GMO wheat? It is not like plant tissue samples are routinely (or ever) taken in a growing crop to test for the presence of the RoundupReady trait.

            It’s all very interesting…

            1. Supposedly this was a “self sown” field and he sprayed it with Round-up to kill it, and some of it didn’t die, so he called the USDA.

              It all seems rather fishy.

              As to the other issue, contamination of neighbor’s non GMO crops is not an issue, as even if you save seed, not enough will be Round Up resistant to allow you to spray your crop with Roundup.

              So far every case where Monsanto has taken action, the farmer has used Round-up to kill all but the Resistant crop and planted from that “pure” strain.

      2. D: Really damned threading – see my response on Organic Law below.

    2. There’s a limit to the extent that human beings can control things like pollination and seed disbursal.

      If some farmers don’t want their fields exposed to hybridization from other strains (GMO or not) floating around out there, the burden is on them to isolate and control their fields’ exposure to things like wind and pollinating insects.

      1. Fair enough.

      2. Bullshit. Burden is on Monsanto to keep their patented DNA from floating around in the air.

    3. D: All is answered in my column, “Organic Law.”

      1. Yeah Ron I read that, and noticed your quote of Coase:

        Coase notes that, in order to maximize output and achieve economic efficiency, property rights should be arranged to reward the rights holder who can avoid a harm at the lowest cost (the “lowest cost avoider”).

        My question is: Should property rights hinge on collectivist notions of overall collective economic efficiency, or are they natural rights which are independent of who best produces what.

        It sounds like a decidedly non-libertarian argument to me, and not very different from the argument that eminent domain proponents use when they seek to confiscate land for what they consider to be better economic outcomes.

        1. Above you seemed fine when Hugh said the burden to keep the field from being contaminated should be on the farmer, which seems to be the conclusion to be drawn via the “lowest cost avoider” tenet you cite. Is there something differentiating between Hugh’s preference, and Coase’s that you’re okay with one but not the other?

          1. I could be wrong, but it seemed like Hugh was arguing that it was just not feasible for a farmer to control these emissions, not that he had a right to emit based on collectivist principles of maximized efficiency.

            1. I’m not sure of the difference. Coase’s “lowest cost avoider” is the one for whom it is most feasible to prevent the damage. In Hugh’s example, it is more feasible for the farmer to do so than for the producer of the potential contaminant to do so, so the burden is on the farmer.

              So is Hugh saying there IS a right, but it should be contravened because it’s inconvenient? That might be a philosophical difference, but not a practical one. And even then, they both seem to use rules of principles of utility more than absolute rights. Is there much difference between saying a right is contingent upon feasibility, and saying that the right is not contingent but can be violated anyway because of feasibility issues?

              1. Good point. I would just add that Hugh’s notion that it’s just not possible to control these emissions does differ from Coase’s in that it’s based on a practical impossibility rather than a possibility which should be evaluated based on lowest practical cost.

                Still I could imagine incredibly expensive measures the emitting farmer could take which would then throw it back into a cost decision.

        2. Yeah, I also find that argument less than persuasive, at least at first reading.

          You have the right to do what you want as long as you don’t interfere with someone else’s ability to do the same. My first impression is that the burden lies with the person originating the harmful activity.

          1. I should just add that I don’t think GMOs are harmful. I think they are great. The harm comes in the organic farmer losing the “organic” part of his product.

            1. An “organic” farmer’s right not to be offended?

              “Organic” is an arbitrary, and ultimately meaningless distinction.

      2. “Organic Law” sounds like the legal system that would exist in a dystopian anti-GMO/Judge Dredd future.

        “You have violated Organic Law. You have been Judged a Toxin. Prepare to be Recycled.”

    4. D: Damned threading – see my response on Organic Law below.

  2. Hmmm, I brought up this point (potential spiking of crops for fun, profit, and manufactured outrage) a few weeks ago, and the response was (basically), “OMWC, yer nuts, no farmer wants to do something like that! They want to sell crops!” My follow up of, “What if the farmer was an anti-GMO activist or buddies with a lawyer?” was ignored.

    I feel much less paranoid at the moment.

    1. I wouldn’t put it past them. If you know anyone who is an environmental activist, they absolutely believe in the most apocalyptic propaganda. The world is litteraly going to COME TO AN END if they don’t stop GMOs/global warming/nuclear power/whatever. So you get a bunch of peiople together who honestly think that WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE unless they do something, and manufacturing outrage is just a necessary thing. People need to be “woken up” to the dangers, don’t you know?

  3. This is an interesting discussion, if a bit academic. I look forward to seeing what comes of it.

    I’m not anti-GMO per se, myself; if anything, I’m more skeptical of business practices by large companies like Monsanto, than I am of the good intentions guiding the GMO researchers themselves. All the same, it’s been my consumer choice of late to cook more with durum wheat products, not so much because durum doesn’t exist in GM form yet, as my other motivations to expand my vegetarian and vegan cooking skills.

  4. There are other explanations between the anti-GMO “frankenfood is on the march” position and the “The Green fanatics are out to frame Monsanto” position.

    The simplest one I can think of is somebody up the delivery stream put a load of seed in the wrong hopper.

    1. Not possible. GM wheat was never commericalized. Field trials were over 10 years ago, and nobody has detected it before now.

      I see three possible explantions:
      1. GMO activist got their hands on some seed and deliberately cultivated it
      2. The trait somehow developed naturally, or got passed on by horizontal gene transfer.
      3. Miraculously, nobody has bothered to test until now, but it escaped into the gene pool 10 years ago.

  5. SOmetimes man you jsut have to wonder all about thats stuff .Wow.

  6. Harry Reid did it.

  7. The problem with ignorance, stupidity and mental illness is that they just don’t hurt those afflicted with them like they used to.

    Once upon a time being wrong meant you didn’t get to eat. It meant that the odds of you surviving to be wrong again tomorrow were decreased. Those who were consistently wrong perished.

    Today being wrong means almost nothing. There are no real consequences. A person’s quality of life might be affected, but unless they’re outrageously and dramatically wrong, they’ll still get to eat. They’ll live to see tomorrow. Worst of all, they’ll live long enough to breed.

    Civilization, for all its amazing virtues, carries with it a fatal flaw: it trumps natural selection. Civilization is like the tide, it lifts all boats. Sadly it even lifts boats with holes in them.

  8. Maybe a better hypothetical would be the Amish. Who is responsible for them maintaining their life style choice. Can they demand a Cell tower can not be built within eyesight? So modernity does not invade their conscience?

    Because that it what we are talking about. Some, making what accounts to a religious choice to produce crops without current advancements in production. Crops without lab induced genetic evolution.

    Lab induced evolution, plants that have evolved to withstand certain herbicides. Herbicides are compounds that kill plants. But just some plants. The target plants, but doesn’t effect the desired plants,(the crop)

    The GMO ‘free’ term is just a plant that has genetically evolved to withstand a herbicide. That amino acid chain, that creates that protein, that provides that herbicide resistance, does occur naturally. How do you suppose the scientist found it?

    How far can those religious proponets force others to support their faith?

  9. “Maybe a better hypothetical would be the Amish.”

    Maybe not…
    The Amish in this neck of the woods have a very selective disdain for the “modern ways”.
    While most if not all Amish farms in Jackson, Randolph and Perry Counties in Illinois have at least one traditional horse and buggy that they use regularly, many also have very new gasoline or diesel powered tractors and other farm implements.
    The tractors often pull trailers of all types, including trailers fashioned to haul citizens up and down the public highways.
    In Illinois a farm implement need not be registered or display license plates to operate on the public road and the operator of the machine does need an operators license or need be a minimum age. You can (and people do) send a 12 year old kid off to Grandma’s house on a tractor by themselves.
    When I was working for the local landline phone company I installed telephone service for many Amish businesses. The phone at their business is apparently an exception they have carved out for themselves.
    The fact that many of the enterprises are out of the home means I installed phone service to their very big, nice, new, modern homes. Complete with electricity from the grid…And water from the rural water district.

    1. I don’t know how many times I checked my script…apparently I am blind.

      “…and the operator of the machine does need an operators license…” should read…”and the operator of the machine does NOT need an operators license…”

    2. you miss my point. That some make choices.

      The generic term Amish has no meaning, but I sought a quick widely used term, knowing that there are many, many different sects, each with their own unique customs, rules, and restrictions, but still refering to themselves as the generic “Amish” My point still holds, how much can someone demand of you, to uphold their personal, on some level, religious, choices.

      That is what those growing, what is also mislabled as genetical modified, are demanding, that everyone bends to their belief.

  10. “no other explanation “? Really?
    Large birds sometimes eat grain without completely cracking the hull. The undigested grain can then be excreted miles away. It is very common to see undigested grain seeds in goose droppings for instance.
    You offer absolutely no evidence for your conclusion. There is a useful law called Pulitzer’s Postulate. Whenever a headline is posed as a question (“Was biotech Wheat …Sowed by..Activists?) The answer is ALWAYS NO

    1. Did you miss the part about trials of wheat had ceased more the 8 years ago? The trials where small plot work and seed heads would be harvested by hand.

      Of the two theories, yours about birds depositing seed and it growing after years in the soil, or eco thugs sowing seed to cause a stir. The later is at least scientifically possible

  11. The biggest problem with the GMO is the patent power it gives the agri-business to sue farmers who use their own seed but have their crops naturally blended with the GMO version because of the crop next door. Monsonto can and does come in and sue the farmer to force him to pay for the privelge to use his own seed. For the small family farmer, it can completely bankrupt and close the farm held for generations.

    At this point, the property rights of the farmer is completely trashed and shredded for the property rigths of the agri-business. It is once again the little guy verse the big. Same thing like the laws making what my grandfather and dad use to give our cattle now requiring a vet to administer. Or the push to require biochipping for tracking purpose. Injection of the chip would require a vet and every change in information on chip would require a vet. All these vet charges push the cost out of family farmers profitability.

    1. No one is forced to grow GMO seed. There are a full array of non-GMO seed available. If economics are a factor. GMO seed does not cost, it pays.
      Lets us corn. GMO, $300 per bag, a bag plants about 2.7 acres, or$111 per acre. Yield 220bu per acre,X$5 per bu. $1100 gross less $110 seed cost=$989net
      Non GMO $120 per bag same math except yield is now 150 bu per acre =$630 net.

      Explain why the GMO bankrupts farmers?

      As far as saving seed, no one does that. Corn is hybridized. Open pollinated corn yields maybe 100 bu per acre, on an excellent year.

      Saving soybeans back is doable, but lots of issues reduce potential yield from 80 bu per acre vs 40 bu per acre. Savings in seed cost is the difference from $12.50 vs $60

      Its a math thing.

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