Monsanto Wheat Field Contamination: Deleted Documents
The short version: In 2013, a genetically-engineered wheat from Monsanto was found in a farm field in Oregon. The wheat had not been approved for sale and was not commercially available. APHIS launched a massive investigation and eventually posted over 12,000 pages of documents (22 PDFs totaling 2.6 GB) to its website. Those documents are now gone. Earlier this year, I had downloaded them, and they’re now available at the link above.
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The giant agrochemical corporation Monsanto has developed wheats that are resistant to the insecticide glyphosate (Round-Up). In May 2013, a farmer in Oregon reported that one of Monsanto’s GM wheats was growing in his field, despite the fact that it had never been commercially available. Because of this, Japan, South Korea, and the EU signaled that they might stop buying US wheat if it’s contaminated with GMOs.
The Department of Agriculture’s APHIS division (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) is probably best known for enforcing animal-welfare laws, but its other huge area of responsibility is the well-being of plant life, especially crops used as food. APHIS conducted an elaborate investigation of the mysterious field contamination. When the agency was finished, it posted almost 13,000 pages of related documents to the “E-FOIA” section of its website (totaling 2.6 gigabytes).
When APHIS undertook its infamous purge of animal-welfare documents in February 2017, the Monsanto documents stayed online. In fact, they were the only documents in the E-FOIA section that didn’t get wiped. Realizing this could change at any moment, I downloaded them for safekeeping.
Sure enough, those documents have disappeared. Specifically, the page that used to contain them now gives a 403 error: “Forbidden You don’t have permission to access /foia/foia_requests//Case_OR130018/ on this server.”
“In Oregon, The GMO Wheat Mystery Deepens” [NPR]
“Monsanto settles GMO wheat dispute with Northwest farmers for $2.4 million” [Associated Press]
APHIS press release on the ongoing investigation [APHIS]
APHIS press release on the conclusion of the investigation [APHIS]
“APHIS began its comprehensive investigation into the detection of GE wheat on the Oregon farm on May 3, 2013. During the following 10 months, APHIS conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers, and collected and carefully reviewed thousands of pages of evidence. Additionally, APHIS collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold and purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.
The investigation indicates that this appears to be an isolated occurrence and that there is no evidence of any GE wheat in commerce. Information collected during the investigation was instrumental in providing critical information to trading partners to keep foreign wheat markets open. After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field.
The investigation also found that the GE wheat is not a commercial variety of wheat. Instead, the genetic characteristics of the GE wheat volunteers are representative of a wheat breeding program.”