Published on June 27th, 2013 | by Jason Louv0
Who Torched Oregon’s GMO Crops?
GMO Sugar Beet Crops Burnt in the Fields in Oregon; FBI Investigates
In a story that’s barely made it outside of Oregon, over 6,500 genetically modified sugar beets were destroyed in fields between June 8 and 11 by unknown parties.
Via The Oregonian:
Federal investigators are asking the public to help solve middle-of-the-night crimes that left ruined fields of genetically engineered sugar beets in rural Jackson County.
The crop destruction took place over the course of two separate nights in early June, when an unknown individual or group destroyed about 6,500 sugar beet plants.
The beets in question were being managed and grown by the agribusiness corporation Syngenta AG. They had been genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, meaning whole crops of the sugar beets could be sprayed with weed-killer, killing only the weeds and leaving the beets—and, of course, leaving Roundup on the beets.
The FBI has declared the act “economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises.”
The action comes on the heels of the controversial discovery of Monsanto genetically modified wheat growing in a field in Oregon—wheat that Monsanto claims it stopped testing in 2005. The find stoked fears that GMO crop strains may spread in the wild, potentially edging out non-GMO crop strains.
International reaction to the Oregon find included Japan blocking all imports of wheat from the United States, fearing GMO strains might be present. Europe and several Asian countries are also now carefully testing US wheat imports to make sure it’s not genetically modified (GM wheat is not currently commercially produced—the major GMO crops are corn, soy, sugar beets, canola and others). Several US farmers are suing Monsanto over the “rogue” GM wheat. Monsanto is claiming sabotage—but even the USDA is skeptical of their allegations. In related news, GM flax has also been found circulating around the world.
Broadly speaking, why would Monsanto benefit from their seeds proliferating in the wild? Anti-GMO proponents have long suggested that direct contamination of crops by their seeds can allow for legal action against farmers on whose land those seeds are growing. Monsanto has regularly won lawsuits against small farmers the company has found growing Monsanto seeds, whether intentionally or not—on Monday, June 10, Monsanto won another round in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, blocking organic farmers from preventing Monsanto from suing them if their seeds were found in their fields.
Monsanto has been prominent in the news after the passage of the Farmer Assurance Provision or “Monsanto Protection Act,” which activists claimed effectively put big agribusiness above the reach of the law. Over 2 million people protested worldwide.
For a bit of international and historical context on these actions: In 1998, citizens in Scotland, England and Ireland tore up GMO crops planted by Monsanto, Aventis and Novartis. Even Prince Charles joined their cause, stating that agribusiness was conducting a “gigantic experiment… with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong. What we should be talking about is food security not food production—that is what matters and that is what people will not understand.” In response, Monsanto launched a $1.5 million PR campaign to convince the British public to relax. Yet protests soon spread across the European continent, and on May 26, 1998, the European Union penned laws requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled. In 2011, Hungary destroyed every crop field it found to contain GMOs—over 1,000 acres; distribution of GMOs is illegal in that country. Similar protests have taken place across the world.
For a level-headed take on the debate over Monsanto and GMOs, please see my book Monsanto vs. the World, which closely analyzes both the PR spin of big agribusiness and the overstatements, rhetoric and in some cases illegal actions of anti-GMO activists alike.
[Update: "Occupy Monsanto" has claimed that no crops were torched, only pulled up.]