Wheat

USDA scientists have announced the discovery of a second GMO wheat variety included in  samples that were taken from a fallow Washington state field.

USDA investigators last week identified a second GMO wheat variety from samples found in a fallow farm field in Washington state.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced July 12 that it had performed further tests on volunteer wheat samples found last month.

The two Monsanto varieties are MON 71800 — which had previously been identified — and MON 71300.

MON71300 and MON71800 were evaluated in limited field trials in the Pacific Northwest from 1998 through 2005 but neither was ever commercialized, according to Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer CropScience.

The two wheat varieties are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is often sold under the trade name Roundup.

"Because we've determined the presence of them, we aren't spending time counting individual plants and determining numbers," Lyndsay Cole, USDA APHIS assistant director of public affairs, told the Capital Press. "We've moved into the mitigation phase, which is just to ensure all of those plants were destroyed."

The entire unplanted field had to be destroyed, Cole said.

There is no evidence that any genetically engineered wheat has entered commerce or is in the food supply, APHIS said. 

Genetically modified wheat is variously referred to as GM, GMO, genetically engineered, GE or biotech.

A test kit will soon be available for trading partners such as South Korea and Japan to detect MON 71300, APHIS said. They already test for other GMO varieties.  

"If it's there, we're glad they identified it,"  Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said of the new discovery.

The Food and Drug Administration completed a voluntary food and feed safety evaluation on MON 71800 several years ago, concluding it was as safe as the non-GMO wheat currently on the market, APHIS said.

MON 71300 contains the same gene for glyphosate resistance as MON 71800, previously evaluated by FDA.

FDA said it “would have no safety concerns in the unlikely event that low levels of MON 71300 wheat or MON 71800 wheat were present in the food supply," APHIS said in its statement.

In previous tests, APHIS detected MON 71800, which was found in an Oregon field in 2013, and MON 71700, which was found in Washington in 2016.

There is no GMO wheat for sale or in commercial production in the U.S. at this time.

APHIS cannot release the name of the farmer or the location of the farm where the latest discovery was made, Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs for APHIS, said. in an email to the Capital Press.

"For producers, it’s important to note that we are providing industry, states, the public and our trading partners with updated information as it is available, and we will continue to do so," Cole said.

"We have long encouraged transparency, and I think that's what APHIS has done," Squires said.

The new test kits should soon be available to overseas customers, Squires said.

Questions remain about how the event happened, Squires said, adding that he doesn't expect a major market disruption.

"We've appreciated APHIS's open communication with both the industry and customers as this process has unfolded,"  he said. "That's been beneficial."

Cole said APHIS will continue to release updates and a final report. Previous cases have taken six to nine months, and APHIS expects a similar timeline, she said.

She said hopes the cause can be determined as part of the investigation, but noted that exact origins weren't able to be determined in previous cases.

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