Volunteer GE Wheat Plants Found in Washington

Photo by Debra Murphy.

The US Department of Agriculture confirmed another discovery of rogue genetically engineered wheat plants on Friday.

A total of 22 volunteer GE plants were found by a farmer in an unplanted field in Washington State. The department says the plants contain the protein found in MON 71700, the glyphosate-resistant GE wheat developed by Monsanto. The company discontinued the research and testing in 2004.

While GE wheat has been tested in plots, there are no genetically engineered varieties approved for sale or production in North America. The department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) says there’s no evidence any of the wheat found in Washington State entered the grain handling system.

“Out of an abundance of caution, APHIS is testing the farmer’s full wheat harvest for the presence of any GE material. The farmer’s harvest is complete, and it continues to be held while USDA completes tests of the grain. So far all samples continue to be negative for any GE material. If any wheat tests positive for GE material, the farmer’s crop will not be allowed in commerce.”

Monsanto has developed a test for identifying MON 71700 in grain shipments and is providing it to trading partners to test imports, according to APHIS.

This is not the first time unapproved GE wheat has been found. In 2013, South Korea and Japan stopped buying U.S. wheat after a discovery in an 80 acre field in Oregon. GE wheat was also found in Montana in 2014.

The USDA has since taken steps to tighten its oversight of GE wheat field trials. As of January 1, 2016, developers must apply for a permit for field trials, rather than simply going through the notification process used in the past.

Reuters and Korean media are reporting South Korea says it will tighten its testing and quarantine procedures for U.S. imports after this latest discovery.

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