GE wheat found on Oregon farm

May 31, 2013
by DTN

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is investigating the presence of genetically-engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat on an Oregon farm.

Initial testing on the wheat indicated the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005, according to an APHIS press release.

There are no GE wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the U.S. or elsewhere at this time, but the agency stressed it does not pose a food safety concern. There is also no information that indicates this trait entered the commercial supply chain, according to an APHIS Q&A fact sheet.

The glyphosate-resistant trait, also known as Roundup Ready, has been approved for use in other crops, notably corn, soybeans and cotton. Monsanto voluntarily withdrew its application for the deregulation of the trait in wheat in 2004, according to the U.S. Wheat Associates.

“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.”

An Oregon farmer noticed some volunteer wheat that germinated in a place where it wasn’t initially planted and was resistant to glyphosate. He sent samples to an Oregon State University scientist on April 30. The researcher contacted APHIS on May 3, based on preliminary positive test results.

APHIS dispatched investigators. In the Q&A fact sheet, testing for the GE trait is “extremely complicated and time consuming.

APHIS made the public announcement about this detection as soon as USDA laboratories had absolute confirmation regarding the specific GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety.”

Commercializing biotech wheat and introducing it into the global marketplace has been an ongoing conversation between wheat industry representatives, technology developers and major users of wheat in the U.S. and overseas for more than a decade.

Wheat farmers like biotech because of its potential to increase yields, but consumers, particularly countries that import a lot of wheat, are concerned about the food safety aspects.

According to APHIS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in 2004. For the consultation, the developer provided information to FDA to support the safety of this wheat variety. FDA completed the voluntary consultation with no further questions concerning the safety of grain and forage derived from this wheat, meaning that this variety is as safe as non-GE wheat currently on the market.

“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 wheat industry group said in a news release. “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 highquality 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.”

Currently, Oregon exports 90 percent of its wheat crop, which is predominantly soft white wheat.

“We don’t wish to speculate on market reaction,” APHIS said in its Q&A fact sheet. “As both a leading producer and consumer of wheat, the United States is directly aware of the concerns that an event like this could raise in the food/ feed supply chain, from seed producers and farmers to retailers and consumers. We are working hard to reassure domestic and global wheat consumers that this development, although unwelcome, does not pose a risk to food safety.” — Katie Micik, DTN