WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 - A USDA plan to beef up oversight of test plots of genetically engineered wheat – put together after unauthorized GE wheat was found in fields in Oregon and Montana – is meeting opposition from both sides of the issue.
The proposed Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service rule, published in the Federal Register in September, would require all future field trials of GE wheat to be done under APHIS permits, as well as “more stringent post-harvest monitoring for volunteer wheat plants” lasting for four years, the agency noted.
While it was never proven that the events in Oregon and Montana were brought about by volunteer plants from previous trials, there are no strands of GE wheat currently approved for sale or production by APHIS.
The comment period for the proposed rule closed on Monday, and in joint comments, the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates pointed out that wheat is already lagging in GE research, and this regulation could make that problem worse.
“NAWG and USW believe the USDA APHIS’ proposed four-year volunteer wheat monitoring requirement will be one of the highest cost activities of compliance for researchers and could negatively impact GE wheat research trends, resulting in a further erosion of wheat’s competitiveness with corn and soybeans,” the organizations said.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) noted the “eagerness” of the wheat industry to take advantage of potential GE advancements, and said that the proposed rule likely won’t address the issues it is trying to correct. “The limited evidence and reasoning described (in the Federal Register notice) do not suggest any basis for concluding that the proposed changes would have the desired effects,” BIO said in its comments.
While BIO, NAWG, and USW think the rule goes too far, the environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch (FWW) said the proposed changes don’t go far enough. It says contamination of non-GE crops could still happen under this rule. FWW calls for a complete overhaul of the way GE field trials are conducted, including improving aspects of contamination prevention and compensation for those affected by contamination.
Furthermore, FWW says better information about GE trials should be provided to the public.
“The lack of publicly available information on the exact locations of field trials makes it extremely difficult to adequately monitor these trials,” FWW said in its comments. “As it stands, neighboring wheat farmers would never know to take precautions or test for GE contamination due to the lack of public disclosure of locations and traits planted.”
FWW also calls on USDA to “enact a moratorium on the approval of GE wheat field trial applications at least until the investigation into the Montana GE wheat event is complete.” APHIS recently concluded the investigation into the Oregon event and could not find the source of the unapproved wheat.
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