Farming News - Unapproved GM wheat found growing in Oregon
Unapproved GM wheat found growing in Oregon
Unapproved genetically modified wheat plants have been discovered growing on a farm in Oregon, United States Department of Agriculture officials announced this week. The wheat had been altered to make it resistant to glyphosate herbicide Roundup and is believed to have stemmed from Monsanto field trials conducted around ten years ago.
GM Roundup-Ready wheat was trialled in several US states between 1998 and 2005, including Oregon, where the last trial took place in 2001, but plans to market the wheat were dropped before it was licensed for commercial planting. Although many other crops grown in the United States are GM, including the vast majority of maize and soybeans, as these are used in industry, animal feed or processed foods, there has been less opposition to their production.
Wheat, on the other hand, is consumed more directly and as a result there has been staunch resistance to attempts to modify wheat plants. There are currently no genetically modified wheat plants approved for commercial growth in any country worldwide.
Last year in the UK the debate over GM crops became headline news once more, when opposition to plans by Rothamsted Research Institute to conduct open air field trials of GM wheat engineered to resist aphids were widely and vocally opposed, notably by protest group Take the Flour Back. In a successful social media PR campaign, the Rothamsted scientists managed to deflect negative attention and their trial went ahead unmolested.
However, in light of recent discoveries in the United States, critics may well suggest that this experience with GM wheat illustrates how little control people have over these organisms.
USDA said on Wednesday that several agents are conducting tests in the area to make sure resistant wheat has not entered farmers' fields and the food chain, and to establish how widespread the problem is. Meanwhile, growers and grain traders in the country have expressed fears that fallout from the discovery could affect the country's wheat exports. Many of the United States' trading partners are averse to GM crops and take issues of contamination seriously.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is leading the inquiry. APHIS spokesperson Michael Firko said on Wednesday, "We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation. Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened."
Update: 30.05.2013 12:15 EU to block shipments of contaminated US wheat
The EU Commission has contacted US officials over the discovery of unlicensed GM wheat on an Oregon farm. Although USDA has said there is no health risk associated with the discovery of wheat, believed to stem from trials conducted over ten years ago in Oregon, industry sources have expressed grave concerns over the potential fall-out for US exporters.
Commission sources said there have been requests into means of testing US shipments for the strain of glyphosate-resistant wheat, which was trialled in 16 US States over a period of seven years, but subsequently abandoned by developer Monsanto. The Commission has pledged to test incoming wheat shipments and block any found to contain GM material.