The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wednesday announced that tests of plant samples from a field in Oregon indicate the presence of genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant volunteer wheat plants.
Further testing by USDA laboratories indicated the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. There are no GE wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States or elsewhere at this time.
The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern, APHIS said.
The Food and Drug Administration completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in 2004.
According to the U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers, Monsanto did conduct research on Roundup Ready spring wheat in the past, but withdrew its application for deregulation of the trait in wheat.
Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator for APHIS' Biotechnology and Regulatory Services, said in a press statement that the group's first priority is to determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened.
"We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation," he said.
"We know it is important to understand how this situation occurred, and we have confidence that APHIS will be able to determine that as soon as possible," U.S. Wheat and NAWG said in a statement. "Nothing is more important than the trust we've earned with our customers at home and around the world by providing a reliable supply of high-quality wheat. As industry leaders, we will cooperate with authorities in the United States and international markets to understand the facts surrounding this incident and help minimize its impact. "
Monsanto in a press statement reinforced that the Roundup Ready gene - which offers tolerance to glyphosate - has been ruled safe by the FDA.
"This is the first report of the Roundup Ready trait being found out of place since Monsanto's commercial wheat development program was discontinued nine years ago. Our process for closing out the Roundup Ready wheat program was rigorous, well-documented and audited," the company said. "While USDA's results are unexpected, there is considerable reason to believe that the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited."
APHIS regulates the introduction and regulation of organisms derived from modern biotechnology, in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services FDA.
The Plant Protection Act provides for substantial penalties for serious infractions. Should APHIS determine that this situation was the result of a violation of the PPA, APHIS has the authority to seek penalties for such a violation including civil penalties up to $1,000,000 and has the authority to refer the matter for criminal prosecution, if appropriate.
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News sources: APHIS, U.S. Wheat Associates, NAWG, Monsanto