USDA: New GMO Wheat Case

By Katie Micik
DTN Markets Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — USDA closed one investigation and opened another into isolated appearances of biotech wheat, the agency announced on Friday.

The results of USDA’s investigation into how Roundup-resistant wheat got onto an Oregon farm were inconclusive. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it’s an isolated incident and found no evidence the biotech wheat entered commerce.

The wheat found in Oregon was not a commercial variety of wheat, and its genetic characteristics are representative of a wheat breeding program, APHIS stated in a press release.

USDA also announced a new investigation into compliance issues at a Montana research site. Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center in Huntly, Mont., notified APHIS in mid-July that it discovered modified wheat growing on the property. Monsanto and wheat researchers grew Roundup-resistant wheat there from 2000 to 2003.

"Genetic testing shows that the GE (genetically engineered) wheat at this research facility location is significantly different from GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year," APHIS stated in a press release.

Wheat from the Montana facility was not allowed to enter commercial channels this year or in the years it was grown experimentally on the farm. None of the wheat was sold as seed, APHIS stated.

Montana State University said volunteer wheat was found in "two small areas kept free of unwanted plants through the application of herbicides. When the wheat plants did not die after repeated applications of the herbicide, MSU contacted the USDA."

The university added that its research with Roundup Ready wheat from 2000-2003 was for herbicide tolerance and performance, not breeding. Since 2006, those research sites have been used to grow commercial sugar beets and malt barley.

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup Ready crops, said in a statement released Friday afternoon that it has been cooperating with USDA and the university since the wheat was first discovered in July.

"USDA is managing this as a local compliance matter associated with a closed-out regulated field trial, and view it as unrelated and very different from the discovery of Roundup Ready Wheat in a commercial wheat farmer¹s field in Oregon last year," Monsanto stated.

APHIS has not deregulated any biotech wheat varieties to date, so there are no biotech varieties for sale or in commercial production. The National Association of Wheat Growers noted that biotech wheat was deemed safe for human consumptions by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004.

"As we have said before, nothing is more important than the trust wheat growers have earned with our customers," Paul Penner, NAWG president and wheat farmer from Hillsboro, Kan., said in a press release. "We appreciate the thorough and diligent investigation that APHIS has conducted and we accept its findings. We also believe those findings show that our customers can be confident that we are still producing a reliable supply of high-quality, wholesome and nutritious wheat."

APHIS said it interviewed 291 farmers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants and wheat researchers during its 10-month investigation, which produced more than 12,000 pages of evidence. APHIS also collected more than 100 samples of wheat from businesses that sold or purchased the same certified seed planted on the Oregon field and from businesses that purchased grain from the Oregon farmer. (APHIS’s research can be found here: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/…)

APHIS’s findings are consistent with the fact that Japan and South Korea didn’t identify any occurrences of the trait in any of the cargoes tested, NAWG’s press release stated.

Buried at the end of its announcement, APHIS said it’s going to take steps to make sure that biotech wheat isn’t unintentionally growing in other locations where field trials are taking place.

"APHIS will inspect field trials planted in 2014, and follow-up with post-harvest inspections to ensure those conducting the field trials adhere to APHIS’ requirements to monitor for, and remove, volunteer plants (plants that grow in a field following a previous harvest). It will also conduct some post-harvest volunteer monitoring inspections of GE wheat field trials that were planted in 2012 and 2013," the press release stated.

APHIS is also re-evaluating the requirements it put in place for fields testing biotech wheat and the frequency of inspections "to minimize the potential for any further incidents involving GE wheat."

Katie Micik can be reached at Katie.micik@dtn.com

Follow Katie Micik on Twitter @KatieMDTN

(CZ/AG)