Aug 21 More than 150 U.S. farm and food
businesses and organizations on Wednesday called for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to strengthen its oversight of field
trials of experimental, genetically modified crops.
The group includes organic and natural food industry
representatives as well as family farm and trade policy players.
It said the disarray in international markets after an
unapproved genetically modified wheat developed by Monsanto Co
was discovered growing unchecked in Oregon this spring
is the latest example of the need to change GMO field trial
"There are major weaknesses in USDA's oversight of
experimental field trials, including how unauthorized crops are
contained," the group said in a statement issued in its behalf
by the Organic Seed Alliance and the Rural Advancement
"Current U.S. policy includes neither mandatory
contamination prevention measures nor an adequate system for
monitoring the success of containment following trials," the
The group sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in
late July and met with him last week in Washington to discuss
its concerns. In its letter it asked that USDA "fix its
rubber-stamp approach to GE crops" and said that "improvements
in regulations and oversight must start at the field trial
USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said the meeting between
Vilsack and the group was productive.
"We are currently carefully reviewing the concerns and
information shared with us and will be responding in full in the
near future," Rowe said.
USDA told Reuters earlier this month that it has
strengthened oversight of biotech crop field trials in recent
years. The agency said it conducts about 700 inspections
annually, up from about 500 in 2007, and has improved training
for monitoring compliance with test protocols.
Field trial controls are of special interest to U.S. wheat
growers because the April discovery of Monsanto's unapproved
wheat prompted some foreign buyers to temporarily refuse certain
Many foreign buyers have said for years that they do not
want genetically modified wheat, and there was concern that the
experimental wheat may have contaminated commercial wheat
supplies. No genetically altered wheat is offered for commercial
sale, though several companies continue to experiment with
Monsanto said it stopped its experiments with the wheat in
question in 2004 and 2005 and has no idea how the biotech wheat
came to be growing in Oregon this year. USDA has said it
believes the incident was isolated and it reassured wheat buyers
there is no sign of contamination in commercial supplies.
But several growers have sued Monsanto for negligence, and
USDA has said it is still investigating the incident.
The group seeking tighter controls said it wants the
government to halt any new approvals of GMO wheat field trials
until the investigation into the Oregon contamination issue is
There have been other episodes in which experimental biotech
crops have eluded efforts to keep them contained.
A type of biotech rice developed by Bayer AG to
resist herbicide was not approved for consumption but still
showed up in the food supply in 2006. Its presence in the U.S.
crop led Japan and the European Union to restrict U.S. rice from
crossing their borders, triggering a plunge in rice prices. More
than 7,000 long-grain rice producers claimed damages.
Traces of an unapproved genetically modified trait for corn
were found in U.S. corn planted in 2006 and 2007.