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Genetically Engineered Wheat Found in Oregon Field, Federal Investigation Underway

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, Oregon News page and our Washington News page.

Illegal genetically-engineered wheat has been discovered growing in an Eastern Oregon field, which may cause severe marketing and export problems for one of the state's biggest crops.

State agriculture department Director Katy Coba said 85 to 90 percent of the Pacific Northwest's soft white wheat crop is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other nations, where it's used to make noodles and crackers. Oregon's wheat crop is valued at $300 million to $500 million annually, depending on yield and price.

"Clearly there's a concern about market reaction," Coba said. "Japan and Korea jump out. They do not want genetically-engineered food, they do not want genetically-engineered wheat. They could shut off the market to us."

If that happens, Oregon may have to institute testing of its shipments to prove they do not contain genetically engineered - or GE - material, Coba said. The wheat industry would have to pay for it, she said.

Coba and federal agriculture officials insist the particular variety of GE wheat is safe for human consumption or for use as animal feed, but the discovery this month outraged activist groups that have long warned about the potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops. The Center for Food Safety, based in Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has "once again failed to protect the food supply from GE crop contamination."

In a prepared statement, Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said the incident shows stronger regulation is "long overdue" and the agriculture department should immediately ban open-air field testing of GE crops.

A 2005 study estimated that the national wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million annually if GE wheat were introduced, because many markets oppose or prohibit modified crops, according to the Center for Food Safety.    
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