THE discovery of a patch of genetically engineered wheat in a field in Oregon is not a health problem here or anywhere. It is, however, a commercial problem that requires attention.
The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
must finish its investigation quickly to the satisfaction of the health authorities in Japan and South Korea, so that the export of Pacific Northwest wheat can continue.
The wheat that caused the flap was discovered in a field that had been harvested in 2012 and left fallow. “Volunteer” wheat, not planted, was growing there along with weeds. The farmer twice sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup. In less than 1 percent of the 125-acre field was left standing a patch of wheat that should have died.
The farmer had it tested: It was Monsanto wheat, engineered to withstand Roundup. That sort of wheat had been grown in test plots in Oregon most recently in 2001, and in Washington more recently than that, but the farmer said he had never grown it.
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Investigators have looked for the modified wheat in samples of wheat for sale, and have found no trace of it.
Monsanto’s wheat is not known to be dangerous. But it has not been approved for commercial planting, and the governments of the two biggest markets for Northwest wheat, Japan and South Korea, have not approved the import of it. Already buyers there have suspended new purchases of Western white wheat until investigators find out what happened in Oregon.
Much is at stake. Washington has 1.5 million acres
of it, and Oregon and Idaho together have another 1.7 million acres
. The winter wheat harvest begins about July 4. The planting of the new crop of winter wheat should begin in September.
No time to waste.