WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) said on June 13 that it received confirmation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that it has found no genetically modified traits in wheat seed or commercial supplies in recent tests it has conducted.
APHIS announced on May 29 it had identified an unapproved genetically modified, glyphosate-resistant trait in volunteer wheat on a single Oregon field. That trait is a “Roundup Ready” gene that Monsanto tested in wheat, with federal approval, between 1998 and 2005, but did not commercialize.
USW, the U.S. government and grain handlers are making sure buyers, government agencies and end users have the most accurate information as quickly as it becomes available from the ongoing APHIS investigation.
“Unfortunately, we are concerned about what we consider inaccurate or misleading information that is appearing in some news stories and from other sources,” USW said. “Transparency has always been a respected part of the service USW provides; it is in that spirit that we address the facts here as we know them. This discovery is isolated. There is no evidence that wheat with this trait has entered commercial channels.”
In April, an unnamed farmer applied the herbicide glyphosate on a field in eastern Oregon that had been left unplanted (or fallow) since the summer of 2012, a common practice in the arid inter-mountain Pacific Northwest. That field had some wheat plants growing in it that he considered “volunteers” (plants that were not purposely seeded, nor would be harvested). The farmer said he found randomly a handful of wheat plants the herbicide did not control.
This is unusual, so he sent samples of those plants to an Oregon State University weed scientist who then conducted tests on the samples. Those tests indicated that the wheat plants contained a glyphosate resistant trait. APHIS was informed and immediately began the formal investigation that is still underway.
APHIS stated specifically in its initial announcement that no information exists indicating that this regulated trait has entered the commercial supply chain and has not changed its public position that this is an isolated situation. USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) continues to issue a letter stating that “no transgenic wheat varieties are available for sale or in commercial production in the United States at this time.”
• There has been no other report of natural or genetically modified glyphosate resistance in wheat.
• APHIS confirmed publicly that “testing associated with the investigation so far has been negative and that we have no information that GE wheat is in commerce.” In addition, the statement says GIPSA “is working toward making available appropriate and validated testing techniques to address market needs.” USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) continue to encourage APHIS to release more detailed information about its investigation as soon as possible.
• Washington State University announced June 7 that since May 29, its scientists have screened public and private varieties representing 90% Washington’s soft white (SW) winter wheat crop and nearly 75% of the state’s SW spring wheat varieties and has not found any evidence of a glyphosate-resistant trait in that wheat.
• Monsanto announced last week that it has tested 56 seed varieties representing more than 80% of all the acres of SW winter and spring wheat varieties grown in Oregon and Washington in 2011; no sample has tested positive for the Roundup Ready trait identified by APHIS.
There is no food or feed safety concern associated with this trait.
APHIS made it clear that this wheat does not pose a food safety concern. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from wheat with this GM glyphosate-resistant trait. 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 wheat with the trait, meaning it is as safe as non-GM wheat currently on the market.
Some importing customers have suspended purchase of some U.S. wheat classes; these decisions are limited and being managed thoughtfully.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has temporarily suspended tenders specifically for SW wheat from the United States because of the Roundup Ready trait identified by APHIS. MAFF did not, as has been reported, cancel a contract for U.S. wheat, nor has it suspended or restricted all U.S. wheat imports as some reports claim. MAFF did purchase U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat and hard red winter (HRW) wheat in its regular tenders since the discovery was announced and this week MAFF purchased U.S. soft red winter (SRW) in a “simultaneous buy-sell” tender for feed wheat.
Private wheat buyers in Korea have temporarily suspended purchases of U.S. SW wheat, pending official decisions from Korea’s Ministry of Food & Drug Safety (MFDS). MFDS did announce June 6 that it had collected and tested 40 samples of wheat and five samples of flour milled from wheat that had been shipped/imported from Oregon, and that all tests showed that “no unapproved recombinant wheat” has been identified to date. Korea’s private buyers collectively have 175,000 tonnes (6.43 million bushels) of open U.S. wheat purchases on the books that are unaffected by their voluntary delay of new purchases.
No government agency in Taiwan has restricted any U.S. wheat imports. A Taiwan Flour Millers Association (TFMA) group purchase of U.S. wheat, including Western White (a mixture of SW and club) is scheduled to arrive this week and TFMA says it will accept the GIPSA letter affirming there are no transgenic wheat varieties for sale or in commercial production in the United States at this time.
The European Commission has recommended to its member states that they should test U.S. SW wheat imports. We cannot confirm if any E.U. member state has or has not tested any wheat, nor can we confirm if any country there has postponed any purchases of U.S. wheat because their purchases are not made on a set schedule.
It is important to make an additional clarification about the classes and amount of U.S. wheat exported to E.U. countries from the Pacific Northwest region. There was a misstatement in some press reports related that the E.U. imports more than 1 million tons of wheat annually and 80% of that is “soft white.” European trade sometime refers to all wheat except durum as “soft” wheat. In fact, less than one half of 1% of all wheat exported to Europe from the U.S. since 2008-09 was SW wheat.
In general, USDA's weekly U.S. wheat export sales report issued June 13 showed U.S. new crop sales were a very respectable 427,200 tonnes (15.7 million bushels), within trade estimates.
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