Vilsack assures Japan that PNW wheat is safe, GM-free
By MATTHEW WEAVER
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has sent a letter to Japan's top agriculture official assuring him that Pacific Northwest soft white wheat is safe and not genetically modified.
Vilsack sent a letter Yoshimasa Havashi, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, about the USDA investigation into the May discovery of "a small number of volunteer wheat plants" in an Oregon field that tested positive for having a glyphosate-resistant wheat from Monsanto.
Two different USDA laboratories tested volunteer plants using an event-specific polymerase chain reaction method Monsanto provided to USDA, which USDA also validated.
USDA conducted more than 100 tests on the varieties of soft white wheat seed planted by the farmer and grain from the seed supplier. No samples have tested positive to date, Vilsack wrote.
Vilsack said USDA identified more than 250 farmers who purchased and planted the same seed, conducting nearly 230 in-person interviews to determine whether glyphosate resistant wheat volunteers have been observed beyond the 123-acre field. Based on those interviews, no glyphosate-resistant wheat has been reported on any other farm planted with the same seed.
Vilsack promised to continue to be in close communication with Japan as the investigation progresses.
Vilsack stressed that "this is an isolated incident in a single field on a single farm," and that MON71800 is considered as safe as non-genetically engineered wheat for food and feed use.
"While our authorities are confident of this safety, I recognize that this event is not authorized in your country, and I am committed to providing information to help you reassure your consumers and stakeholders that U.S. wheat does not contain genetically engineered wheat," Vilsack wrote.
Oregon wheat growers last week sent a letter to the USDA asking the agency to establish a closer working relationship with overseas customers to address their concerns.
"From our perspective, when your two largest, best, longest-term customers, who represent about 50 percent of your market, ask for direct communications, the response is easy," Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe wrote in the letter.
"The more communication, the better," Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said in an interview.
He expects ongoing communication to overseas customers, and believes similar letters will go to officials in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Japan has temporarily suspended new purchases of "western white" wheat, a blend of at least 10 percent club wheat with soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest, according to U.S. Wheat Associates. Japan continues to purchase U.S. hard red spring and hard red winter wheat.