APHIS: Tests indicate presence of GM wheat plants in Oregon field
By Jennifer M. Latzke
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced May 29 test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant wheat plants.
According to the release, USDA laboratories further tested the samples and found the variety was the same GM glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. A formal investigation is underway to determine how the variety wound up in the field outside of a regulated environment. The investigation was kicked off with notification from an Oregon State University scientist who discovered initial volunteer wheat samples from an Oregon farm showed the potential of GM glyphosate-resistance.
“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation,” said Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services, “Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened. We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation. ”
At this time there are no GM wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States, or in other wheat producing and exporting countries including Canada and Australia.
Monsanto had conducted research on a Roundup Ready spring wheat but withdrew its application for deregulation of the trait in wheat in 2004. According to a company press release following the announcement, in the past decade since the trait was discontinued, an average of 58 million acres of wheat have been planted in the U.S. and this is the first report of the Roundup Ready trait being found out of place.
“Our process for closing out the Roundup Ready wheat program was rigorous, well-documented and audited,” the press release stated. “We understand that USDA’s findings are based solely on testing samples from a single 80-acre field, on one farm in Oregon, which overwintered from the previous growing season. As is the normal practice in this part of the country, wheat fields are left fallow following the previous harvest and sprayed with glyphosate to control weeds and to preserve soil moisture.”
Monsanto reiterated it will work with USDA to investigate the matter and has provided testing materials and technical assistance.
While commercial test strips are available to determine the presence of glyphosate tolerance in crops such as soybeans, canola, cotton and sugar beets, the same strips generate greater than 90 percent false positive detections in wheat, according to the company.
While never commercialized, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and livestock feed derived from the variety. Monsanto provided information to FDA to support the safety of the experimental variety and FDA concluded in 2004 that the trait in wheat did not pose a health risk in food or animal feed and was as safe as non-GM wheat currently on the market.
In response to the announcement, the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers issued a joint statement, emphasizing their organizations’ confidence that “U.S. wheat, wheat flour and wheat foods remain safe, wholesome and nutritious for people around the world.
“We know it is important to understand how this situation occurred and we have confidence that APHIS will be able to determine that as soon as possible,” the statement added. “Nothing is more important than the trust we’ve earned with our customers at home and around the world by providing a reliable supply of high-quality wheat. As industry leaders, we will cooperate with authorities in the United States and international markets to understand the facts surrounding this incident and help minimize its impact.”
The Plant Protection Act has stiff penalties for violations and should APHIS determine that this situation was the result of a violation of the PPA, it has the authority so seek up to $1 million in civil penalties and refer the matter for criminal prosecution.
According to the USDA Export Sales Report, all sales of all classes of wheat for the 2012-13 marketing year, through May 16, totaled 27.1 million metric tons, with a forecast of all exports to reach 27.9 mmt by the end of the marketing year.
Each year the U.S. exports about half of its annual wheat crop and leads the world in wheat exports, according to NAWG. Japan is one of the largest purchasers of U.S. wheat exports, up to 10 percent of our total exports at about $700 million.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org.