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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Unapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Discovered in Oregon: Status and Implications

Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on May 31, 2013, that a variety of genetically engineered (GE) wheat had been discovered in a field in eastern Oregon. No varieties of genetically modified wheat have been approved, or deregulated, by the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the USDA agency responsible for regulating the release of GE plants into the environment. Release of GE plants into the natural environment is regulated by APHIS under the Plant Protection Act (PPA, 7 U.S.C. 7701 et seq.), as amended.

APHIS began a formal investigation in early May after notification by an Oregon State University scientist that preliminary tests of the wheat samples from the Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-tolerant wheat plants. Test results by APHIS indicated the presence of a glyphosate-tolerant variety field-tested by Monsanto Company, a major corporate presence in agricultural biotechnology, under APHIS approval at approximately 100 field trials in 16 states between 1998 and 2005. The agency approved field testing of GE wheat in Oregon in 2001. At this time, APHIS does not know how the presence of the unapproved wheat variety occurred, how the wheat could have gotten into the field after so many years, whether violations under the PPA occurred, or whether the growth of the wheat is more widespread. Answers to these questions are among the objectives of the APHIS investigation.

The safety of GE organisms for food and feed is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.). A voluntary consultation on the safety of food derived from the GE wheat variety was completed by FDA in 2004. FDA determined that the GE wheat variety was as safe for food and feed as non-GE wheat, and that there were no public health concerns.

As of early June 2013, APHIS has stated that there is no evidence that GE wheat has entered commerce. Initial tests of wheat imported by Japan, South Korea, and European Union have found no evidence of the unapproved GE trait. The presence of GE wheat in the market could have significant trade implications if the variety turns out to be widespread. The United States is a major wheat exporter, exporting about 50% of its wheat crop. About 90% of Oregon’s wheat crop is exported. Many countries, including Japan, the European Union, and South Korea, have zerotolerance policies regarding imports of unapproved GE varieties. Japan, the largest buyer of U.S. wheat, and South Korea have temporarily halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat grown in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

Monsanto Company, the variety’s developer, provided a validated testing method for the presence of the GE trait to APHIS and to government regulators in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the European Union. If APHIS’s investigation shows that the GE wheat is isolated to the one field and a few unintended volunteer wheat plants, the trade implications are likely to be minimal. Should the investigation show that the contamination is from commingled seed, or that the GE wheat is widely dispersed, the trade implications could be more significant.

Date of Report: June 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: R43100
Price: $19.95

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