Volunteer GE Wheat Discovered

USDA Reports No Evidence Unapproved Variety Was Sold

Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Friday reported that 22 genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant wheat plants were found growing in an unplanted field in Washington. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

OMAHA (DTN) -- South Korea reportedly has temporarily halted imports of wheat from Washington state after USDA confirmed the discovery of volunteer genetically engineered wheat growing in the state.

Though USDA stated there was no evidence any such wheat made it into commerce, the discovery marks the third time such unauthorized wheat has been found growing since 2013.

In a statement Friday, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported that 22 glyphosate-resistant wheat plants were found growing in an unplanted field in Washington. USDA stated the wheat was developed by Monsanto Co. and is referred to as MON 71700.

In response, a newspaper in South Korea reported that the country's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety had suspended customs clearance for wheat from Washington state, and halted the sale of wheat from Washington state as well. The Korea Herald, quoting an official from the ministry, added that more than half of South Korea's wheat imports are produced in Washington state and the country has imported 619,000 tons of U.S. wheat so far this year.

South Korean officials are especially on edge over issues regarding genetically engineered wheat. Just this week, South Korea rejected a shipment of feed wheat from Argentina after traces of unapproved GE products were found in the shipment.

The U.S. Wheat Associates stated that South Korean officials will likely wait for a new test to confirm there is no GE wheat in U.S. commercial supplies. Additionally, the South Korea Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Rural Affairs also stated that there was no concern from that country's experts about GE wheat being introduced into the country.

Leaders from U.S. Wheat Associates stated Friday they believed APHIS had successfully managed the situation and provided sufficient evidence that the incident had not affected commercial wheat supplies.

"Based on that and other facts, we are very confident that nothing has changed the U.S. wheat supply chain's ability to deliver wheat that matches every customer's specifications," U.S. Wheat Associates stated. "USW has also kept in touch with overseas market customers, as has USDA. We believe some of those customers, Korea and Japan specifically, will be temporarily cautious about new imports of some U.S. wheat until they can put the validated grain test to work locally. USDA says that could happen as soon as next week. Since there is no evidence of GE wheat in commercial supplies, we expect the testing to confirm that, so if any market disruption occurs, we think they will be short-lived."

Still, the latest unauthorized GE discovery comes as the wheat markets are already suffering from high global production and stocks. The cash market for soft white wheat, the dominant wheat variety in Washington, is at $4.28 a bushel. The September contract on the CME for soft red winter wheat was trading Friday at $4.08 a bushel, the lowest price since September 2006.

The Washington Association of Wheat Growers declined to comment and said the group was told to refer all media calls about the incident to an APHIS press person in Maryland. An APHIS spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement issued by the agency.

Monsanto issued a statement Friday reiterating much of what USDA stated in its news release about the discovery, but also stressing that the Food and Drug Administration completed a safety assessment of the "lead event" in Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant wheat program in 2004. "The U.S. wheat supply chain continues to provide safe and high-quality wheat for both domestic and foreign markets, and there is no evidence that glyphosate-tolerant wheat is in the seed supply or grain commerce," Monsanto stated. "This conclusion is supported by ongoing screening over the past three years of widely planted wheat varieties in the Pacific Northwest by Washington State University and the routine use of glyphosate as an agronomic tool by U.S. wheat growers."

While the FDA concluded it is unlikely the wheat would present any safety concerns if present in the food supply, USDA emphasized officials do not believe any such wheat made it into commerce. That's because U.S. overseas markets have zero tolerance for the prospect of genetically-engineered wheat making it into market. In 2013, a similar discovery in Oregon led to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan banning imports of certain U.S. wheat varieties.

On Friday, USDA stated that the department worked with the farmer who found the wheat in an unplanted field. "Out of an abundance of caution, APHIS is testing the farmer's full wheat harvest for the presence of any GE material," USDA stated. "So far all the samples continue to be negative for any GE material. If any wheat tests positive for GE material, the farmer's crop will not be allowed into commerce."

In April 2013, an Oregon farmer sent off samples from a small wheat stand found in an Oregon field that came back as a Monsanto wheat variety. The discovery led Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to ban certain U.S. wheat varieties. USDA produced a 12,842 page report on the investigation into the Oregon incident and concluded it to be an "isolated incident," but USDA never determined how the wheat came to be in the field.

Because of the import ban, the Oregon incident prompted some wheat farmers around the country to file litigation against Monsanto due to a decline in wheat prices associated with the export restrictions on certain varieties. (http://dld.bz/…)

In 2014, USDA also reported that Monsanto's glyphosate-resistant wheat had been discovered at a Montana research field, even though Montana State University had not grown the variety since 2003.

Monsanto tested glyphosate-resistant wheat in the Pacific Northwest from 1998-2000, the company stated Friday. At USDA's request, Monsanto has also provided technical support and created a test to help detect the presence of the glyphosate-resistant variety.

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


Chris Clayton