USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed that soft white wheat was harvested last year in the Washington state field where genetically modified wheat plants were found this spring.
The field had not been replanted.
The agency announced the discovery of GMO wheat plants last week and is investigating their source. No genetically modified wheat has been approved for sale to farmers in the U.S.
In the meantime, key overseas customers are being kept in the loop, industry officials say. About 90% of Washington wheat is exported to Asia and other overseas customers.
South Korean and Japanese officials “are being very cautious for now,” said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates, the overseas marketing arm of the wheat industry.
South Korea and Japan have tested for two specific traits in all U.S. wheat shipments since 2013. They have never found any wheat with those traits.
The question for the industry is which traits were found in the recently discovered wheat, Mercer said.
“That determines how the customers, and us, deal with it,” he said.
The industry is still waiting for an update from APHIS, Mercer said.
The exact location of the discovery was not identified, nor did APHIS say how many plants were found.
“Really, I don’t have any information outside of (the USDA) press release,” Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, told the Capital Press. “I think they’re just going through the same process they’ve gone through in the past to figure out what it is, that type of thing.”
“I don’t know exactly how they’ll respond, but the important thing is we are in communication with our customers,” he said. “We’re not hiding any information, we’re providing as much as we have.”
Samples of the wheat plants from the field were sent to the USDA Federal Grain Inspection Service lab in Kansas City, Mo., and the USDA Agricultural Research lab in Pullman, Wash., for testing and confirmation, according to a joint statement by the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates.
“USDA is collaborating with our state, industry and trading partners, and we are committed to providing all our partners with timely and transparent information about our findings,” APHIS said in a press release.
There is no evidence the genetically modified wheat entered the food supply, the release said. No GMO wheat is for sale or under commercial production in the U.S. and APHIS has not deregulated any GMO wheat varieties.
Genetically engineered crops are also known as GE or GMO, for genetically modified organism.
This is the fourth GE wheat incident in the United States, following events in Oregon in 2013, in Montana in 2014 and Washington in 2016.
“After previous detections of GE wheat, USDA strengthened its oversight of regulated GE wheat field trials,” APHIS said.
APHIS has required developers to apply for a permit for field trials involving GMO wheat since Jan. 1, 2016.
Bringing GMO wheat under permit enables APHIS to create and enforce permit conditions that ensure confinement and minimize the risk that the regulated wheat will persist in the environment.
“This detection is a result of events occurring before USDA strengthened its oversight of regulated GE wheat trials,” APHIS said.
Washington State University has been working with APHIS to provide support and aid in gathering information.
“We will continue to assist APHIS, the State of Washington, and the wheat industry as needed,” the university said in a statement.
After the discovery of GMO wheat in Oregon in 2013, WSU initiated a comprehensive screening of the majority of public and private-sector wheat varieties in its breeding and variety testing programs.
“We have continued elements of this screening every year since 2013 and have never detected glyphosate-resistant wheat in any of these tests,” the university said in a statement.