China Rejects U.S. Corn Imports, Due to Presence of Unapproved GE Trait
An all too familiar story made headlines today: “U.S. Cargo Rejected Due to Unapproved GMO Variety”.
This morning, China rejected a cargo load of U.S. corn because it contained an unapproved genetically engineered variety of corn, not yet approved for import. The strain of corn is produced by Syngenta, and known as “Agrisure Viptera” or “MIR 162”.
How did this mix-up happen? If history is any example, we won’t be finding a clear answer anytime soon. Just last spring, a discovery of unapproved genetically engineered wheat, traced back to a farm in Oregon, caused Japan, the largest export market for U.S. wheat growers, to suspend imports from the U.S. While imports have resumed, Oregon’s wheat mystery has yet to be solved.
Circumstance like these are not free from finger pointing. It didn’t take long for biotech companies to accuse anti-GMO activists of planting the unapproved (and pretty much unattainable) strain of GE seed in that Oregon farmer’s field. More reasonable scenarios exist: someone could have misplaced a bag of wheat from Monsanto’s wheat trials, treating it like conventional wheat. Or the seeds could have been carried through the years, undetected. Or some other type of human error or natural phenomenon could have contributed to their misplacement. “Once we release these genes into the field, we should just assume that they are going to say in the environment,” said Oregon State University weed scientist, Carol Mallory-Smith.
Since GE crops were developed, contamination has become common, and has the tendency to spread remarkably far. In 2000, a GE corn crop not approved for use in food, and accounting for just 1 percent of the total harvest, managed to contaminate half of the national supply, resulting in a nationwide recall that ultimately cost the company that developed it more than $1 billion.
This has also become a major issue for farmers hoping to sell their crops to countries that strictly regulate or ban GE foods, hurting exports and farmers’ proﬁts. Earlier this fall, a Washington farmer discovered GE alfalfa had contaminated his non-GE crop after it was rejected for export. According to one estimate, the potential losses in sales or lower prices for farmers growing GM-free crops from contamination may total $90 million annually.
Whatever the circumstance, today’s headline marks an unavoidable truth: as long as GE crops are developed and used in the United States, contamination, and its undesirable consequences, are an ever-growing threat.