USDA announces GE wheat update
By Matthew Weaver
Industry reps advise patience, await Japan return to market
The USDA says it is working as quickly as possible to get to the bottom of how genetically engineered wheat wound up on a northeast Oregon field.
The USDA issued an update on its ongoing investigation into the appearance of Monsanto's variety MON71800 in Oregon in the spring of 2013.
According to USDA, all of the evidence collected so far suggests that the incident remains limited to one field on one farm. The evidence includes the absence of the Monsanto variety in seed and grain samples tested by USDA laboratories and reports from nearly 270 farmers interviewed by investigators.
Since the detection of the wheat variety in May 2013, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has conducted an initial "re-review" of authorizations involving MON71800 field trials and related field test reports. APHIS continues to review the information and other potential sources of information.
"As necessary, we will take appropriate remedy measures and enforcement action," the APHIS press release stated. "We are moving forward with the investigation as expeditiously as possible."
From 1994-2005, APHIS issued 158 authorizations for field testing the Monsanto variety in 16 states under its notification system. All field trial applications and reports are submitted directly to, authorized and managed by APHIS headquarters personnel. Each application and its design protocol are reviewed for sufficiency prior to field test.
In some cases, not all authorized field tests are actually conducted. A change in research plans or adverse weather conditions may cause an applicant to cancel an authorized field test, according to APHIS.
"For some of these authorized field tests, APHIS was notified that the GE plants were never planted and the authorized field test was not conducted," the report states.
There is no evidence that the variety is in commerce or any of the other 15 states where MON71800 field tests were conducted, USDA says.
Blake Rowe, CEO of Oregon Wheat, said the update doesn't provide much new information to the industry or customers, except for an increase in the number of farmers interviewed and information about field trials. Field trials were one of the areas representatives from Japan wanted to talk about in detail when they met with USDA and the industry earlier in July, Rowe said.
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) appears to be moving ahead to resume purchases of U.S. wester white wheat, said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates. Internal steps at MAFF still need to take place before that happens, he said.
Rowe said the industry needs to be patient and respect the ministry's process to resume western white purchases.
"They have reports to write, people to report to, briefings to give, just like we would in this country," he said. "We have to give them room to get those things done and have a little bit of faith that they're being diligent, going through the steps they need to go through to finish their review and return to the market."
In discussions with MAFF, wheat industry officials asked if there were still details they needed. Rowe said there wasn't anything specific MAFF representatives wanted help getting to complete their work.
Rowe said the biggest thing still on industry and customer wish lists is the final report.
"I don't know that we will get that any time soon or not," he said.
Mercer said the USDA update "couldn't hurt," when it came to relations with overseas wheat buyers.
"It doesn't say that there was no way this could have happened, clearly," he said. "But the implication is, as far as APHIS was concerned, it appears everything was done according to what anybody would describe as very strict standards in terms of management of that research material."