Investigation ongoing into GM wheat discovery in Oregon
"Update: The investigation into this matter is ongoing. It is not known if the volunteer GM wheat plants in question were a winter or spring variety. Only that the Oregon farmer planted a blend of the soft white winter wheat varieties ROD and WestBred528. High Plains Journal is following the investigation and will provide updates as they are available."
By Jennifer M. Latzke
More is still developing from the May 29 announcement of the discovery of a genetically modified glyphosate-resistant hard red winter wheat in an Oregon field.
As of press time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service still was conducting a formal investigation of how volunteer hard red winter wheat came to grow in the Oregon field. APHIS testing found the plants in question to be the same GM Roundup Ready experimental wheat variety—technically referred to as the MON71800 event—that Monsanto had been authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. Monsanto withdrew its application for deregulation of the trait in wheat in 2004.
According to APHIS, an Oregon farmer noticed volunteer wheat plants had germinated and developed where they had not been intentionally planted. They were sprayed with glyphosate and were resistant. The farmer set the samples to Oregon State University on April 30, and preliminary tests showed the plants tested positive for the glyphosate trait.
On May 3, APHIS was notified by OSU and dispatched investigators onsite to collect additional samples from the farm. APHIS is also working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture as well as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to provide technical support and testing expertise.
APHIS made its formal public announcement of the investigation on May 29 as soon as USDA labs had “absolute confirmation regarding the specific GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety.” APHIS is using the polymerase chain reaction test to detect the DNA and genetic construction of the event. PCR testing is complex and lengthy and must be conducted in a lab setting.
While there are no commercially available rapid tests to detect the trait in wheat, there are some available that will detect the trait in other crops, such as corn, soybeans and cotton. Monsanto shared that the company is working with APHIS and governmental regulators in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the European Union to provide a validated testing method.
“The method will provide these governments with the opportunity to precisely and accurately test for the original Roundup Ready wheat trait and distinguish it from traits that are already approved and widely used in other crops,” the Monsanto release stated.
Still unknown at this time is how the wheat got into the field in the first place.
Monsanto, on its blog regarding the investigation, stated that Monsanto’s field trials of Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon were spring wheat varieties—not hard red winter wheat as was found. And the last approved field trial of Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon was in 2001.
“Monsanto has never grown a winter wheat field trial in the state of Oregon,” it stated. Nor did Monsanto have any Roundup Ready wheat field trials in close proximity to the field in question.
Plant breeders across the industry agree that under normal field conditions and with current agronomic practices, the physiology of wheat makes it impossible for germination after a decade. On average, wheat seed viability is only 1 to 2 years at most.
APHIS pointed out on its website that as of press time there is “no information that this wheat variety has entered commerce.”
APHIS has a low level presence policy that allows APHIS to determine if remedial or enforcement regulatory actions are required once an investigation is concluded. Remedial actions include removing LLP of this variety from the food supply. But, in 2004, the Food and Drug Administration determined that this variety of wheat offered no food safety concern. Enforcement actions could be taken against a company or individual if it is determined there was a violation of APHIS regulations.
USDA, FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency all have a piece of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. The three agencies regulate the safe use of genetically engineered organisms.
FDA covers the safety of the use of GE organisms in human food and animal feed. EPA regulates pesticides and plants with incorporated protectants. And APHIS regulates the introduction of GE organisms that may pose a risk to plant health.
Additionally, the Department of Justice has been pulled into the investigation to ensure compliance with the Plant Protection Act. According to APHIS, PPA provides substantial penalties for serious infractions, including civil penalties up to $1 million, and possible criminal prosecution.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.