GMO crops vandalized in Oregon

Jackson County, Oregon

On the night of June 8 this year, vandals broke into a field of genetically engineered sugar beets in Oregon owned by Syngenta, a Swiss company, and destroyed about 1,000 plants. Then three days later, a second such incident occurred, this time destroying about 5,500 plants. Federal investigators are seeking information about these incidents, and Oregonians for Food & Shelter have offered a reward of $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest of the individuals responsible for these acts of vandalism.

Both incidents occurred in rural Jackson County, on the Southern border of Oregon. The beets were genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, which is a common trait for many genetically engineered crops currently on the market. This trait is desired by sugar beet farmers because it can improve their weed control, which currently requires multiple different herbicides to accomplish. The destruction of these beet plants is reported as a significant loss, which the federal government has classified as “economic sabotage.”

Few details have been released about how exactly these incidents occurred from Syngenta, for the reason that the company does not want to encourage copycats. Oregon live reports that the vandalism appears to have been conducted on foot, as no vehicle tracks were found.

Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at (541) 773-2942 during normal business hours or the FBI in Portland at (503) 224-4181 twenty-four hours a day. Tips may also be emailed into Portland@ic.fbi.gov.

GMO crop vandalism in the United States

Sugar Beets, by Curious Cook

Several groups who are critical of genetically engineered crops have organized the illegal destruction of field trials and farms growing genetically engineered crops. Historically, organizations such as Greenpeace and the Earth Liberation Front were among some of the primary organizers of such events, but many ad-hoc organizations have cropped up over time to claim responsibility for some acts of destruction.

Two years ago, Greenpeace members broke into CSIRO, an Australian scientific agency, and mowed a plot of wheat, which was genetically engineered to have a lower glycemic index and may benefit people who are diabetic or otherwise conscious of carbohydrate consumption. About $400,000 in damage was caused, and the loss of one year’s worth of work.

Last year, a group that called itself Take the Flour Back threatened to destroy a field trial at the Rothamsted Research Station in England. The wheat variety being tested there was modified to produce an aphid pheromone that would deter the insect pests, and except for one small incident, the destruction of the trial never took place and a protest was conducted instead.

In the United States, vandalism of GE crop trials was common in the 1990s, but quickly became scarce after the year 2000. A press release by Beth Anne Steele at the FBI details many, but not all, of these incidents:

  • 10/96 Atlantic, Iowa. Greenpeace destroyed 3 acres of Asgrow/Monsanto RR soybeans.
  • 11/98 University of California, Albany, California.  The “California Croppers & Captain Swing” destroyed the “Gill Tract” section of Novartis GM Corn and non GM Corn.
  • 7/99  University of California, Oxford, California.  “Reclaim the Seeds” destroyed 2 acres of Monsanto GM corn.
  • 7/99  University of California,  Albany, California.  “California Croppers & Captain Swing” destroyed 14 rows of Novartis     GM Corn and non GM corn, again at the Gill Tract.
  • 7/99  Lodi, California.  The Lodi Loppers and Cropatistas destroyed 1-2 acres of Dekalb (Monsanto) and Seed Tech GM Corn.
  • 8/99  Wells River, Vermont. An unidentified group destroyed 50 rows of corn owned by the Knoxland Dairy.  Knoxland grows both Bt and non-GMO corn and was not sure if the crops destroyed were GM or not.
  • 8/99  University of Maine, Old Town, ME.  “Seeds of Resistance” destroyed 1/2 acre of Dekalb (Monsanto) GM Corn at the University of Maine.
  • 9/99  Goodhue, MN.  “Minnesota Bolt Weevils” destroyed an undetermined amount of Novartis GM corn.
  • 9/99  Mankato, MN.  “Minnesota Bolt Weevils” destroyed 50 rows (and several vehicles) of Dupont/Pioneer GM corn.
  • 9/99  University of California, Oxford, California.  “Reclaim the Seeds” destroyed 7 acres of Monsanto GM corn.
  • 9/99  University of California, Davis, California.  “Reclaim the Seeds” destroyed 1000 corn plants, non of which were GM products.
  • 09/99 University of California, Davis. “Reclaim the Seeds” destroyed Non-GM plants and research equipment at the Department of Plant Pathology
  • 10/99 Eau Claire, Wisconsin US Genetix Alert (Jeffrey Tufenkian) announced that a group smashed windows and equipment at a   Pioneer Hybrid Facility
  • 11/99 Saanich, B.C Genetix Alert (Jeffrey Tufenkian) announced that a group destroyed about 1000 NON-GM trees at the Western Forest Saanich Forestry Center
  • 11/99 Summerland, BC Genetix Alert (Jeffrey Tufenkian) announced that a group destroyed several hundred Fruit Trees at Okanagan Biotechnology, Inc.
  • 11/99 Seattle, WA US Public Citizen & Jose Bove Rally at downtown McDonalds protesting biotechnology at WTO smashed windows, slashed tires on buses, spray painted police cars and set fires in the street
  • 12/99 Michigan State Univ, Lansing  US Earth Liberation Front set fires and cause $400,000 damage to USAID funded research project
  • 01/2000 USDA, Albany, California Reclaim the Seeds (BAN/TAO)destroyed Non-GMO US Wheat hybrids at WRRC
  • 01/2000 Watsonville, CA Fragaria Freedom Farmers GMO strawberries destroyed at Plant Sciences Inc

In 2011, and again in 2012, vandals cut down papaya trees engineered to resist a devastating viral disease, which were growing on private farms. Except for these incidents, sabotage of genetically engineered crops has not been seen in the United States for the past 10 years, while it continues internationally. Whether this is an isolated incident or the beginning of a new wave of crop vandalism amidst unrest over genetically engineered crops remains to be seen.

The acts of sugar beet vandalism in Oregon also coincide with the recent discovery of a variety of genetically engineered wheat in the same state that was not approved for commercial release by the USDA. Monsanto representatives have suggested that the few number of genetically engineered wheat plants found on an Oregon farm may have been the result of deliberate sabotage. The evidence for this, however, is only circumstantial, and others such as James Moyer, head of Washington State University’s Agricultural Research Center and an associate dean at the school, say that the rogue wheat incident could also be the result of an accident. Others find intention far less likely. The investigation of the wheat case is ongoing.

Sabotage as a Political Act

The office of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project at MSU after the 1999 arson

The use of sabotage, sometimes called “direct action” or euphemistically described as “non-violent” has been traditionally used to protest against genetically engineered crops, but its political effectivness is slipping around the world. Some past cases of research sabotage have led to arrests and convictions. A high-profile case of vandalism at Michigan State University in 1999 involved activists setting fire to a University building, leading to the eventual arrest and conviction of Marie Mason, who admitted to 13 counts of arson and property damage. The Agriculture Hall she helped set fire to also housed a rare plant collection.*

The case of Marie Mason attracted support from prominent anti-GE activist, Vandana Shiva, who said in a video interview “I pay tribute to Marie Mason to what she did.” With regard to the illegality of the acts of arson, Shiva added, “I think it is criminal that she is treated like a criminal.”

During the trial of Mason, the prosecution stated “A good cause does not justify the worst means. That’s not how society works.”

The Greenpeace members who broke into the CSIRO facility in 2011 were convicted and fined for the damage they caused, which was paid for by Greenpeace.  An act of sabotage attempted in connection to the threats made against the Rothamsted wheat trial also led to a conviction and a fine for the person responsible. Media reports and public commentary focused on the “anti-science” nature of such acts in both cases.

In the wake of the Rothamsted event, Mark Lynas, who himself used to destroy GE crops before changing his perspective on the technology, wrote in the Journal of Agriculture & Food Security that shifts in the debate have occurred as a result of time, outreach by scientists, and media framing.

Although these matters are necessarily subjective, many of those interested in the GM debate in the UK will agree that the failure of ‘Take the Flour Back’, and Rothamsted’s success in communicating the value of its biotechnology work, felt like a turning point. This has yet to be tested in terms of the public acceptability of actually eating GM wheat should it be commercialized, and it is also the case that the regulatory environment in the EU as a whole now makes it extremely difficult and expensive to deploy GM technologies outside the laboratory. To this extent, the successes of the early anti-GM movement and the plethora of regulatory responses it provoked still weigh heavy on the work of scientists to use this technology in a wider way for the benefit of the environment and food security more generally.

Greenpeace activists mowing CSIRO’s wheat, 2011

While destroying field trials of genetically engineered crops have continued around the world, there is evidence that these acts are increasingly being viewed as antithetical to garnering support for campaigns against the technology.  The Mail Tribune said in a brief editorial, “GMO crops may be a threat to health and well-being, or not. But the people who resort to such acts succeed only in damaging their own cause.”

Chris Hardy, a founding member of GMO-Free Jackson County, agreed. “GMO-Free Jackson County does not support the destruction of another farmer’s crop.”

For the State of Oregon, this crime represents new territory for them in the debate over genetic engineering. Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba stated, “To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has deliberately taken the cowardly step of uprooting high value plants growing in our state. Regardless of how one feels about biotechnology, there is no justification for committing these crimes and it is not the kind of behavior we expect to see in Oregon agriculture.”

*As readers have thankfully pointed out, the incident that destroyed a rare plant collection was a 1998 arson attack at the University of Washington.

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a public research geneticist in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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37 comments to GMO crops vandalized in Oregon

  • There was also that series of bombings of nanotech researchers, and one of the articles that discussed it mentioned this woman’s lab in Mexico:

    http://www.nature.com/news/nanotechnology-armed-resistance-1.11287

    The sentiment is echoed by Beatriz Xoconostle Cázares, a biotechnology researcher at Cinvestav, who is experimenting with transgenic crops resistant to drought and insects — and who regularly debates with ETC in public forums. Last September, Xoconostle arrived at work to find that her lab had been set on fire. A month later, arsonists attacked the lab of a neighbouring researcher.

    It’s really chilling. And if it was climate researchers, the whole world would be shouting about that. But barely anyone knows about these incidents.

  • DebbieC

    These incidents would all lead me to suspect the recent “rogue wheat” findings were likely some sort of sabotage?

    • Tom

      “These incidents would all lead me to suspect the recent “rogue wheat” findings were likely some sort of sabotage?”

      Why not that the activists had legitimate concerns for your health as supported by the evidence of rougue wheat?

    • Lisa

      wow, so you’re suggesting that some anti gmo activists saved some GMO wheat seeds from a Monsanto field trial for over ten years, and then came out and planted them this year? Highly unlikely. Monsanto is the criminal for not keeping its field trial properly enclosed and the consequence was it genetically spread. The real criminal here is MONSANTO. There are sooo many TRULY independent studies proving adverse effects and probable cause for alarm if we continue to alter genes to suit our economy. Even the knowledge of Epigenetics proves that genetically altering living organisms can have unintended effects in the future. Even as precise as genetic engineering has become, so far as placement is concerned, to guarantee its safety is blasphemous. Every single cell communicates with others, and changing that communication for the sake of the economy will likely prove to be a disaster

      http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

      • Blasphemy is the purview of religion, not science. I like your link to the evidence-free Entropy paper. Did you know that the author of that paper blamed roundup for the Boston Bombings? Careful what you consider to be a reliable source of information.

      • Loren E

        Hmmmm, Lisa it is far easier to believe that groups of people who’ve engaged in vandalism numerous times in the past 15 years pulled a fast one here than to believe this wheat just magically appeared after 10 years. No one saw it before this?? Was this the first time this grower ever used Round Up in his field? If it has been out there for the last ten years, why is it not showing up in the wheat supply?
        And an ‘enclosed field trial’? Enclosed by what exactly? That’s not how it is done. All field trial sites are checked for volunteers for several years after a trial. So I wouldn’t be calling them criminal without some hard evidence.

        • First Officer

          It would not be the first time an anti-gmo organization stole gm seeds. The main anti-gmo hypothesis is that this had got out and spread. But from where and how? The seeds can’t survive in the wild more than two years so they can only spread if successive generations had germinated over the last several years. This would have left a trail of migration from where they were last grown to that field. Since no other field tested positive and no wheat in the supply pipeline has tested positive, that hypothesis seems to be dead.

  • After reviewing the available information. I have only one question. Was the GE wheat planted in drill rows or scattered in the ~1 acre of the 123 acre field? The USDA should publicly answer this important question.

    As far as I can determine all evidence so far points to deliberate planting of the GE wheat. No one has come up with a viable alternative explanation that takes into account the known facts. I want to be very clear. I am in NOT accusing the farmer of any involvement.

    The economic reasons behind a deliberate planting of GE wheat are easy to see by looking at the fall out of the GE wheat discovery.

    OK one more question.

    Isn’t it time for the FBI to get involved in this case of apparent “economic sabotage”?

    • Robert, you make an interesting point about the way that the wheat was planted. It certainly could shed light on the question. The reason why I emphasized the circumstantial nature of the deliberate sabotage claim with regard to the wheat is that we don’t have a clear test that could differentiate between accident and intent. Wheat plants that aren’t in line with a drilled field, if that is how it was planted, could show that.

      • Karl, I believe the plants were identified when a fallow was sprayed out with glyphosate rather than a spray in a wheat crop. So it would be impossible to tell whether they were there by accident or deliberately placed there.

      • First Officer

        This point was brought up before. If we can plot the distribution of the volunteer plants, in relation to how the regular crop is planted, that might tell us something. If it were intentional and from, “Nature Ninjas”, in the night, the pattern should be different than a normal planting. Even attempts by saboteurs to make it appear random would tend to produce patterns that look like an attempt at randomness rather than true randomness.

    • Rita

      And then there is skepticism of sabotage claims regarding the wheat incident from Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed sciences at Oregon State University who confirmed the event: “The sabotage conspiracy theory is even harder for me to explain or think as logical because it would mean that someone had that seed and was holding that seed for 10 or 12 years and happened to put it on the right field to have it found, and identified. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/22/agriculture-oregon-monsanto-gm-wheat

      Interestingly…Carol Mallory-Smith also confirmed two other incidents of genetically engineered crops appearing where they shouldn’t in Oregon:
      1) the Scott-Monsanto RR creeping bentgrass incident in 2010 (the field trials of the crop originally planted in 2005, but found in multiple sites over several years after that).

      2)the RR sugarbeet male stecklings in May of 2009 that were supposed to be destroyed but got into landscaping compost, and then distributed to local gardeners, potentially spreading the trait at a time when a lawsuit was still ongoing regarding deregulation (which was evidence Center for Food Safety used in an attempt in the NEPA trial)

      Is she a part of the sabotage conspiracy? Three times the same scientist in the same state confirms that industry stewardship protocols have failed to contain transgenic events? Is she a paid agent of the Center, or (gasp)Organic Consumers Association?

      Or is she a skeptical scientist who happens to be doing her job, and finding that the stewardship protocols are less than foolproof, as anyone who has ever bred or produced seed has always known?

      • Neil

        You realize this is the story behind the “Others find intention far less likely” link above, yeah?

        • Rita

          Yes, but though writing out her entire quote to the commentator (robert) who is suggesting (without saying it directly) that sabotage is likely.

          I also wanted to point out that this scientist has been at the center of three such incidents, which either makes her an expert, or a suspect. I think this blog has done a fine job being objective on most things, but ever since the wheat incident there is an underlying thread of Organic Consumer Association-esque conspiracy to pin this on an anti-gmo activist, when anyone who works with seed knows that the genes flow, seed disseminates, and human systems to manage nature are imperfect. If there is any real ecological or true-risk impact of such a “leaky” system is a fine area for debate…but to suggest that it takes conspiracy to create such a leak is silliness.

          • I want to stab a pitchfork right through the heart of the suggestion that Carole Mallory-Smith would be a ‘suspect’ just as much as the idea that an activist is likely to have spread the seeds intentionally.

            The main reason why I wanted to mention the wheat incident in this story is to point out the temporal relationship (and provide links to skeptical looks at the claim of sabotage). The sugar beet attacks may have been a response to the discovery of the wheat.

      • Arthur Doucette

        At the time of this comment: “The sabotage conspiracy theory is even harder for me to explain or think as logical because it would mean that someone had that seed and was holding that seed for 10 or 12 years and happened to put it on the right field to have it found, and identified. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense”

        She apparently didn’t know that the seed was in fact HELD and kept in a secure and viable state for that length of time at National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

        This is key, because it takes SPECIAL handling to keep wheat seeds viable this long.

        It is just TOO MUCH of a coincidence (to me at least) that in the growing season that followed the seeds being taken out of secure storage and sent for destruction (a point where control of the seeds was likely at its lowest point) that these viable seeds get planted in just ONE field on ONE farm.

        As to having it found.
        No big surprise there either.
        The REASON that Glyphosate resistant wheat was not a commercial success is that at the same time Monsanto was developing it, farmers were discovering that by spraying mature wheat with Round-Up a week or so before harvest they could desiccate the plant and increase their harvesting efficiency, so all the person would have to do is have a few minutes access to a wheat farmer’s seed that he knew used this farming method.

        NOT THAT HARD TO UNDERSTAND how this was done.

  • Back in the 1990s someone destroyed a greenhouse at Washington State University that they thought was part of a biotech poplar program. It was actually full of native plant specimens

  • Neil

    I like to remind people who donate money to Greenpeace that it goes towards legal fees for vandals and compensation to their victims. Greenpeace had to pay over $280,000 in compensation to the scientists at CSIRO and those scientists are repeating the experiment. So at the end of the day that act of vandalism completely wasted $280,000+ of donated money.

  • Robert Wagerr

    Interesting quote:

    “Fraley said Monsanto reached out to the farmer’s lawyer, who confirmed the genetically-modified wheat “appeared in patches or clumps and appeared here or there in the field.”

    from http://www.foodproductdesign.com/news/2013/06/monsanto-suspicious-of-gmo-wheat-in-oregon-field.aspx

  • Good summary of anti-gmo vandalism and destruction. European incidents should be included as well, such as the baseball bat wielding anti-gmo incident in Germany. I believe the pro-gmo community needs to go a bit more on the offensive. Too long and much too often the anti-gmoers have control of the conversation, forcing the science to always be on the defensive. It is time to hold their feet to the fire of scrutiny. For instance, many anti-gmo proponents are also anti-vaccine and even anti-evolution (they have to be in order to keep crying, “totally unrelated species”). In a bizarre turn of events, what used to be a right wing crackpot conspiracy theory, now some anti-gmoers have taken up the fight against water fluoridation. Many anti-gmoers also advocate farming methods that can never feed the number of people we have now and, especially, in the future. Simple rate of natural nitrogen fixing per acre/hectare calculations show that. They need to be exposed for the charlatans that they are.

  • La Coupe Est Pleine

    I never knew USA lived so much vandalism on there own !
    (I am French)
    But you got to know that those peoples will never stop. This is not an entertainment, they KILLED all GMO research in France and most of the european countrys.
    Sadly politicians here, are trying recover a liability on the subject. But they gave so much credits to ecologism that most of the peoples here really think there is a hidden risk in growing, and also consuming engineered crops.
    Those organisations are dangerous, keep in mind that law appliance is the only way.
    In France law was not applied to those groups with the help of political cast…. But now our farming research is dying !
    when I see pictures of the organic garden of Michele Obama ….. I think USA is just at the begining of there green troubles !

  • Mlema

    well, I guess it’s heading for all out war. We’ve got anti-gmo-ers ripping up plants and Monsanto using strong-arm tactics to force gmo use in countries around the world.

    In 2010, Wikileaks revealed US State dept cables that ordered embassies around the world to push pro-Monsanto legislation – one strategy memo included an ‘advocacy toolkit’ for diplomatic posts. They were to push the idea that GE seeds could solve the food crisis.

    In 2005, South African ambassadors suggested to Monsanto and Pioneer that they try to fill open positions in the government’s biotech regulatory system by advancing their own applicants. In Indonesia the embassy was still lobbying on Monsanto’s behalf the same year that Monsanto paid $1.5 million in fines for bribing an Indonesian official to repeal rules that governed the planting of GMOs there.

    Lest we believe this is simply our State Dept.’s advancement of US technology and interests abroad, here’s a quote from one of the worst communiques (context is Europe’s resistance to GMO):

    “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU… Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices.”

    sounds military, right? I was shocked to read this and angered that Monsanto has somehow managed to usurp our embassies to do it’s marketing and lobbying with this kind of stuff.

    Criminals on both sides of this issue evidently.

  • Mlema

    And, in case anybody thinks that we DO need Monsanto seeds to “solve the food crisis” – the UN has put a lot of energy into investigating just exactly what the best way to deal with world hunger might be. Their conclusions:

    http://www.unep.org/dewa/agassessment/docs/10505_Multi.pdf

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