Fall 2013

Dialogue | Engineered genes were recently discovered in wheat. Is that a problem?

In May, unapproved wheat bearing genes engineered by Monsanto for resistance to its herbicide Roundup was discovered growing in an Oregon field. How this wheat emerged eight years after its field trials ended is a mystery—the most likely explanation is contamination of the seed supply during those trials—but the discovery underscores how Monsanto’s technology is causing problems for farmers while failing to solve agricultural challenges.

Contaminated wheat is unlikely to cause health problems if eaten. But farmers and the food industry opposed its development because of fears including the risk that other varieties of wheat could be contaminated and rendered unsellable to key importers such as Japan and South Korea that reject unapproved products. That is exactly what has happened. Organic farmers and food manufacturers worry about losing customers opposed to genetic engineering if their products are contaminated.

Monsanto’s products are also causing problems for corn, soybean, and cotton farmers who use approved Roundup Ready varieties. Though these crops were supposed to decrease herbicide use (and did, for a while), two dozen weed species have developed resistance to Roundup. As a result, farmers now use more herbicide than they would have without Roundup Ready crops.

Complex crop rotations, cover crops, and mulches could slash herbicide use while maintaining or increasing yields and profits. A farm policy that prioritizes such ecologically friendly methods would give farmers options beyond Monsanto’s false solutions.


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