FOLLOWING a formal investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 29 that it had detected the presence of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat in Oregon. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released test results of plant samples from a farm in the state that indicated the presence of a glyphosate-resistant wheat variety Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998-2005.
APHIS said it was notified by an Oregon State University scientist on May 3 that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of the GE variety, despite the fact that no GE wheat varieties are approved for sale in the U.S., nor are any in commercial production at this time. Field testing of the variety in the state of Oregon was last authorized in 2001.
USDA was quick to assure consumers that the situation in no way presented a food safety concern, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from the wheat variety in question in 2004. The consultation determined that the variety is as safe as any non-GE wheat currently on the market.
“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation,” said Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services. “We are collaborating with state, industry and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings.”
Responding to the situation, Monsanto said it would work in concert with USDA to “get to the bottom” of the wheat detection, but reiterated that there are no food, feed or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it were to be found in wheat. The company said it discontinued its Roundup Ready wheat program 9 years ago, and the program’s closeout was “rigorous, well-documented and audited.”
“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 rom the previous growing season,” the company said in a statement. “While USDA’s results are unexpected, there is considerable reason to believe that the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited.”
Monsanto said that USDA’s findings were unusual given that more than 500 million acres of wheat have been grown since the company discontinued its program; the alleged Oregon discovery is the first time Roundup Ready wheat has been found outside authorized field tests.