Washington, D.C.—Over 150 companies and organizations sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for better oversight of the experimental field trials used to test genetically engineered (GE) crops. The action was spurred by the high-profile discovery in May of unapproved GE wheat in an Oregon farmer’s field.

The GE wheat is a product of Monsanto, and had been undergoing a USDA field trial. Apart from the apparently unintentional contamination of non-GE crop fields, stakeholders noted the economic impact that the incident, and the relationship of the United States with GE crops in general, has had. “Export customers have made it clear that if the U.S. approves GE wheat, they will purchase all of their wheat from other countries where no GE wheat is grown. Following the discovery of unapproved GE wheat in Oregon, which exports 90 percent of its wheat, Japan and South Korea suspended imports,” the letter read in part.

The signees, which included farm organizations, food processors, millers, retail companies and others, went on to list problems they believe exist with the current GE trial process. Some of the farmers involved also formed a delegation that met with Secretary Vilsack. They asked for a halt to GE wheat trials, at least until the investigation into the Oregon incident is complete. They requested further actions, including: implementation of recommendations made by investigative bodies and Congress aiming to improve field trial oversight; a final report published by USDA on the Oregon wheat event, including sampling and testing methodologies; putting tools in place to test for unapproved GE traits in cases of suspected contamination and USDA-mandated containment protocols for all GE crop trials.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2013