Experts Warn Against GM Wheat

Feb 19, 2003

Experts Warn Against GM Wheat
by Marvin Baker

Organic Consumers Association

Experts say many of North Dakota's export markets will dry up if genetically modified wheat is allowed to be grown in the state. They will be left with bins full of worthless grain that hasn't even been proven worthy as a livestock feed.

But it's not too late for producers to voice their opinions and control their own destiny. Farmers and consumers have to band together to stop the implementation of GM wheat or there will be huge repercussions across the state, members of a panel discussion, sponsored by the Dakota Resource Council, said Saturday in Minot. Speaking to a small crowd of only 10 people, Scott Fry, DRC organizer, said it's critical that everyone concerned about this issue contact their legislators to let them know of the potential risks to North Dakota's agricultural future.

Saturday's meeting was one of several that have been held across the state in hopes of getting producers and consumers talking about the GM wheat issue and taking action against it, according to Fry.

He said the Legislature is not analyzing public concerns, primarily because a small group of people is vocal about the issue, and that needs to change.

"Talk to your neighbors and talk to your legislators," Fry said. "Call them, catch them in the hall on the way to their office. They're not responding because they're seeing the same faces."

Fry expressed his disappointment with the poor turnout, adding that's precisely why the Legislature is pressing ahead with bringing GM wheat into North Dakota. He said it's vitally important for farmers across the state to get together and have a strong voice and put a stop to pending legislation. Containment and tolerance are two important issues in the GM wheat debate, according to Gail Wiley, Montpelier, a member of the panel. She said flatly that GM wheat shouldn't be grown in North Dakota with other food crops.

Her husband Tom, also on the panel, talked of catastrophe in export markets because members of the European Union and Japan simply will not purchase GM wheat. "If we can't export we're going to be in dire straits," he said.

Tom Taylor, the third panelist and member of the Organic Consumers Association in Minneapolis, said people all over the world are concerned about their food supply, and GM wheat products will essentially force consumers to purchase other products made without genetically modified organisms.

Gail Wiley, who recently spoke to the Croatian Parliament about GMOs, and with her husband has given presentations all across Europe, Australia and the United States, said North Dakota also stands to lose domestic markets if GM wheat is raised in the state.

"General Mills won't accept GM wheat because they did a survey and found that more than 10 percent of the respondents said they don't want GM wheat," she said. "North Dakota bakeries are now looking at other states for their flour." She said Dakota Brands, which makes frozen dough products in Jamestown, is one such bakery. Wiley said that business, which employs about 500 people, was created in part to bolster economic development in Stutsman County.

"Then we want to turn around and take away their wheat supply," she said. "So, we're definitely cutting ourselves out of markets here."

Wiley added it's no secret that foreign buyers, especially in Europe, don't want GM wheat. She said Italy recently stated it won't accept durum for its pasta from any countries where GM wheat is grown.

Wiley said liability issues surrounding GM wheat could have huge implications for North Dakota farmers. As an example she talked about Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, who was found guilty in a Canadian court of possessing Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola on his farm.

Schmeiser maintains he never purchased, bartered or stole the GM canola. He claims it arrived on his farm by cross pollination.

"For standing up for his rights, he's lost everything," Wiley said. "We believe companies want to have total control of farmers. The decision in Canada was scary because it was accidental contamination."

Tom Wiley speaks about cross pollination from experience. In December 2000, he was preparing to send 15,000 bushels of specialty soybeans to a Japanese market when he discovered how devastating accidental contamination can be.

"When I was ready to deliver the beans in January (2001), the brokerage firm said they (soybeans) contained 1.37 percent GMOs," he said. "The buyer in Japan wanted less than 1 percent so the firm said they don't want the beans."

Wiley said he was shocked with the results because he is a conventional farmer and has never grown GM crops. His point was he was so close to a crucial sale and lost it, with no insurance to back him up and no way to recoup his net loss of about ,000.

Several other farmers in North Dakota have told of similar situations.

"I was told the contamination came from honey bees," Wiley said. "They can deposit pollen and there's nothing we can do. I see it as a trespass issue and I get stuck with the bottom line. They're coming into my fields and pooping in my fields and I don't like it. It's a huge liability issue and somebody has to be liable."

Gail Wiley added that research going on at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg suggests that within five years of GM implementation, 100 percent of the wheat grown in North Dakota will be contaminated and farmers would no longer be able to purchase non-GM wheat within the state. She added that all the canola grown in Canada today is genetically modified and Canada has lost its canola markets in Europe because of it. That brought original rapeseed back as a major oilseed crop in parts of Europe.

Tom Wiley said he hasn't seen a contract anywhere, nor is he aware of any that are asking to grow GM wheat. He said that concerns him because if farmers start growing GM wheat without contracts, there won't be anyplace to sell it.

According to Taylor, North Dakota controls the future of the wheat industry. "I don't think you realize how many eyes are on you with this wheat issue," he said. "You have the ability to just say no."

Taylor's big concern is segregation, health issues and marketing of GM crops. "How are they going to keep it separated and who are they going to sell it to?" he said.

According to Taylor, the only people GM wheat is going to benefit are Monsanto and the grain markets. He said Argentine farmers are allowed to reseed GM crops without cost, unlike in the United States and Canada, because if most of the farmers in Argentina grow GM crops, neighboring Brazil will eventually soften its stance and accept GMOs, thus allowing a taboo product into large population centers.

"This is a world issue and it is in your hands," Taylor said. "Remember when we had the problem with beef hormones in France? We sued and we won. But France paid the fine and we lost the market. It's exactly what's going to happen with wheat."

Taylor added that health issues with GM products are suspect at best. He talked about the genetically modified StarLink corn controversy and said a Minnesota farmer was injecting bovine growth hormones into his dairy cows until they collapsed and died. When autopsies were performed, it was found their shoulders looked like rippled potato chips. "The calcium was leaching from their bones and getting into the milk," he said.

According to Fry, if the Legislature passes a GM wheat moratorium, that doesn't necessarily stop North Dakota farmers from going to Montana, Minnesota or South Dakota, purchasing GM wheat there, and bringing it back to the state to plant. He said farmers won't be prosecuted for that, but eventually the grain would be traced and again, clients of North Dakota wheat would shut the door to the state and get their wheat elsewhere.

"If we don't do this, (pass legislation) we will have Europe sewed up," Tom Wiley said. "The price of wheat will go way up."

Taylor added, "stopping GM wheat would be genius marketing. It's in your hands." 


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