The Evolution of Food: GMO Labeling Battle in Washington

Washington state becomes the latest battleground over genetically modified organisms

September 25, 2013 | Source: The Pacific Northwest Inlander | by Deanna Pan and our Lisa Waananen

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Washington News page.

Something was wrong: The plants weren’t dead.

After letting the field in eastern Oregon lay fallow for a season, the farmer sprayed the popular herbicide glyphosate to kill weeds and errant plants to make way for the coming season. Most of the plants withered and died, as expected, but scattered around there stood unscathed green stalks of wheat.

There are plants that glyphosate can’t kill, ones grown from seeds with genes deliberately modified to resist the chemical’s effects. Glyphosate-resistant corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and canola are grown from seeds developed and sold by agriculture giant Monsanto, which also sells the herbicide under the brand name Roundup.

It appeared this particular wheat was herbicide-resistant. Which wasn’t supposed to be possible: Monsanto doesn’t sell genetically modified wheat, and there’s none grown commercially anywhere in the world.

On the final day of April, the farmer sent the surviving plants to Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed expert at Oregon State University. The initial test results were surprising, so she did a more precise molecular test.

Notification went out to the state Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Wheat Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which did its own testing for almost a month before making the announcement on May 29: A strain of genetically modified wheat developed years earlier by Monsanto – but never approved by the federal government – had been found in the Oregon wheat field.

The discovery made headlines around the globe, while sending chills through international markets. Japan and other Asian countries halted their purchases and began testing all grain straight off incoming ships.