U.S.D.A. closes fact finding into bioengineered wheat

by Eric Schroeder
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Wheat in Washington state
APHIS said “a thorough examination” uncovered no evidence of bioengineered wheat in commerce from Washington.

WASHINGTON — The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) on Dec. 1 said it has closed its fact finding into the presence of bioengineered wheat in the U.S. state of Washington. The agency said “a thorough examination” uncovered no evidence of bioengineered wheat in commerce.

On July 29, the U.S.D.A. confirmed the discovery by a farmer of G.E. wheat plants growing in an unplanted agricultural field in Washington. The agency examined the farmer’s property and ultimately detected 22 wheat plants that were volunteering in an unplanted field. The G.E. wheat in question is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, commonly referred to as Roundup.

APHIS said it worked with the farmer to ensure that no G.E. wheat moved into commerce. Citing “an abundance of caution,” APHIS said it tested the farmer’s full wheat harvest for the presence of any G.E. wheat material. All samples were found to be negative for any G.E. wheat material, the agency said.

The G.E. wheat was developed by Monsanto Co. and is referred to as MON 71700, containing the CP4-EPSPS protein. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration previously evaluated crops containing the CP4-EPSPS protein for safety through its voluntary biotechnology consultation process. Due to the small number of affected plants, and based on the available information about MON 71700 and CP4-EPSPS, the F.D.A. concluded it is unlikely that the wheat would present any safety concerns if present in the food supply as a result of this incident.

There are no G.E. wheat varieties for sale or in commercial production in the United States at this time, as APHIS has not deregulated any G.E. wheat varieties.

The U.S.D.A. in recent years has taken steps to strengthen its oversight of regulated G.E. field trials, and APHIS now requires developers to apply for a permit for field trials involving bioengineered wheat beginning with G.E. wheat planted on or after Jan. 1, 2016.

“The decision to require the more stringent permit process rather than the notification process employed in the past provides added protection that G.E. wheat will remain confined during field trials,” APHIS said.

The finding in Washington was the third such incident involving bioengineered wheat since mid-2013, when bioengineered wheat was discovered on a farm in Oregon. Following that finding, some countries in Asia temporarily suspended U.S. wheat imports. Then, in 2014, bioengineered wheat was found near a Montana State University crop research facility. Both varieties were found to have been developed by Monsanto. 

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