APHIS silence frustrates wheat farmers
By MITCH LIES
Until a few weeks ago, Helix, Ore., wheat farmer Tom Winn was planning on planting 200 acres of his 2,000-acre farm to canola this fall.
When unauthorized genetically modified, or GMO, wheat showed up on a 125-acre Oregon wheat farm recently, that plan, like grower plans throughout the Northwest, was put on hold.
"I'm now thinking of doubling that," Winn said, "because I don't know if there is going to be a market for soft white wheat."
Winn believes he could make a more informed decision if the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would reveal what they are uncovering in an investigation into the GMO wheat discovery.
Winn, former administrator of the Oregon Wheat Commission and a former wheat commissioner, said he, and dozens of growers he's talked to, are growing frustrated over the USDA's unwillingness to share information about the investigation.
The more open the investigation, he said, the more it would benefit farmers who depend on foreign markets, many of which are opposed to the presence of GMO material in wheat, to move their soft white wheat.
"The frustration is we just don't know anything," Winn said. "We're not hearing anything."
Japan recently postponed purchases of soft white wheat, and South Korea has begun testing all shipments of wheat and wheat flour from the U.S. for the presence of GMO materials. The European Union also has advised member countries to test U.S. wheat for the presence of GMO.
"What we need is to get this investigation to a point very quickly so we know what to do," Winn said.
In addition to more transparency by the USDA, Winn believes the grower involved in the GMO discovery should come forward and identify himself, and reveal more information about the discovery.
"There are a tremendous number of farmers who, with the intimate details, could determine in their own minds what happened, what farming practices led to this and how the GMO wheat got into that field," he said.
Winn said he and other growers are questioning the validity of reports that less than 1 percent of the field where the GMO wheat was found contained glyphosate resistant plants.
And, he said: "If there is even the appearance that things are not being said, and, worse yet, being hidden, it makes the whole situation worse."
In addition to his stints with the wheat commission, Winn also served in Washington, D.C., as legislative assistant for former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield.
The experiences convince Winn that the truth ultimately will come out as to whether there is more GMO wheat out there, and, if so, how much of it, he said.
"You can't keep this stuff secret," he said. "I've been around long enough to know there are no secrets.
"I think the grower community needs to know exactly what occurred," Winn said. "The lack of information, all that is resulting in is speculation, rumor and innuendo.
"Many of the people I've spoken to out here are extremely frustrated because we need as much information as possible so we can understand what is going on," Winn said.