WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced May 29 that test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat plants.
There are no GE wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States or elsewhere at this time.
Further testing by USDA laboratories indicates the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.
APHIS launched a formal investigation after being notified by an Oregon State University scientist that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. (Read the Q&A document prepared by APHIS.)
No food safety concerns
The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern. 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.
APHIS authorized over 100 field tests with this specific glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in years spanning from 1998 through 2005. Field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
How did it happen?
“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,” he added.
“USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation. ”
In a prepared statement on its website, Monsanto said it is working with the USDA to get to the bottom of the situation in Oregon.
“This is the first report of the Roundup Ready trait being found out of place since Monsanto’s commercial wheat development program was discontinued nine years ago,” the company 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.”
Monsanto said it believes the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, “is very limited.”
The company also said it has asked USDA for more details about the testing conducted, or samples necessary for verifying the department’s findings, and has received nothing, as of May 29.
The Plant Protection Act (PPA) provides for substantial penalties for serious infractions. Should APHIS determine that this situation was the result of a violation of the PPA, APHIS has the authority to seek penalties for such a violation including civil penalties up to $1,000,000 and has the authority to refer the matter for criminal prosecution, if appropriate.
In 2011, Oregon wheat production totaled 73 million bushels.