By Rachel Mockler
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food has been a hot topic in recent headlines. Twenty five states had bills in the most recent legislative session. There has also been a lot of litigation and controversy, including Japan and Korea’s suspension of wheat imports from the United States following the discovery of GMO wheat in a field in Oregon. Dr. Neva Hassanein, a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Montana, and Kristina Hubbard, Director of Communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, wrote an op-ed that further discusses the GMO ban in Japan and Korea. The op-ed can be found here: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/06/discovery_of_genetically_modif.html#incart_river
As a graduate student at the University of Montana studying sustainable food and farming issues, I followed Washington State’s Initiative 522 (I-522), an initiative to label GMOs in food, as part of a term project. While listening to the hearings for this initiative, I was surprised to hear that some of the more prominent voices supporting I-522 were not organic wheat farmers, but conventional wheat farmers. The United States is the world’s foremost wheat producer, and Washington is one of the top wheat producing states in the nation, exporting most of its wheat to Asia. These conventional wheat farmers warned that because over 60 countries in the world have some restrictions against GMOs that the introduction of GMO wheat could totally destroy their export market. Those in opposition of I-522, mostly hailing from the biotechnology or agribusiness industry, insisted that the introduction of GMO wheat was seven to ten years down the road from being on the market and that GMO wheat posed no threat to Washington’s export market. Washington’s I-522 will be on the ballot in November, allowing Washingtonians to decide whether or not foods containing GMOs should be labeled. It will be interesting to see what Washington voters decide after watching their farmers be directly impacted by the Asian ordering suspension. Washington growers of soft white wheat have filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto in response to the suspension.
The suspension on U.S. wheat by Japan and Korea is also sending shockwaves to other regions of the United States. Kansas wheat farmer, Dan Brown, is suing Monsanto and seeking class-action status in the lawsuit with other wheat farmers in Seward County, Kansas. Another wheat farmer, Ernest Brown, is suing Monsanto as an individual. In other places, such as in Fairbanks, Alaska and Kauai County, Hawaii, local governments are passing resolutions that call for the control of GMOs at a borough or county level.
How can we help our neighbor state?
The Organic Consumer’s Association is soliciting donations for the campaign they are waging in Washington. Follow this link:
New York Times: “Japan and South Korea Bar Imports of U.S. Wheat” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/business/global/japan-and-south-korea-bar-us-wheat-imports.html?_r=1&
Huffington Post: “Dan Brown, Kansas Wheat Farmer, Files Lawsuit Against Monsanto Over GMO Crop” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/dan-brown-kansas-monsanto-gmo-wheat_n_3504473.html
Grist: “Hawaiians Fight Back Against GMO Experiments” http://grist.org/news/hawaiians-fight-back-against-gmo-experiments/