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What They’re Saying About Roundup Ready Wheat Surfacing in Oregon

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced this week test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. They are from Roundup Ready wheat that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. Due to a chilly reception from several parties including wheat processors and environmental groups, Monsanto discontinued the Roundup Ready wheat project nine years ago.

Here’s what some of the interested parties are saying on Web sites and in press statements about the finding.

What USDA’s APHIS Says

APHIS officials say detection of this wheat variety poses no food safety concern. The genetically engineered wheat is as safe as any non-genetically engineered wheat currently on the market.

Still, APHIS is investigating how this wheat surfaced in the Oregon field.

“Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened,” says Michael Firko, Acting Deputy Administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services. “USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation. ” 

The Plant Protection Act (PPA) 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.

What Monsanto Says

Monsanto says it will work with USDA to find out why the Roundup Ready wheat surfaced. It says there are no food, feed or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it is found to be present in wheat.

“Earlier this month, USDA contacted us and requested information pertaining to an investigation into whether hard-to-control wheat from this field may contain a glyphosate-tolerance gene,” its statement read. “We have provided materials, methods and offered technical assistance. The necessary testing requires sophisticated methods, considerable expertise and meticulous laboratory techniques to generate reliable results. Commercial test strips, which are used to detect the presence of glyphosate tolerance in soybeans, canola, cotton and sugar beets, generate a very high incidence of false positive detections (greater than 90 percent) and are not reliable for wheat. We have asked for information necessary to confirm the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in the samples that were tested.

“Up to this point, Monsanto has not received details about the testing USDA has performed, nor has UDSA provided us with samples necessary to verify their findings. Importantly, as all parties work to verify these findings, the glyphosate-tolerance gene used in Roundup Ready wheat has a long history of safe use.

“Over the past decade, an annual average of 58 million acres of wheat have been planted in the United States,” the statement continued. “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. We understand that USDA’s findings are based solely on testing samples from a single 80-acre field, on one farm in Oregon, which overwintered from the previous growing season. As is the normal practice in this part of the country, wheat fields are left fallow following the previous harvest and sprayed with glyphosate to control weeds and to preserve soil moisture.”

Monsanto added the report is unusual, since the program was discontinued nine years ago, and this is the only report after more than 500 million acres of wheat have been grown. Accordingly, 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.

What Wheat Groups Say

“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,” said the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates said in a joint 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.”

What Food Democracy Now! Says

“The discovery of Monsanto's patented genes from a variety unapproved genetically engineered wheat in a Oregon farmer's field is deeply disturbing to America's wheat farmers,” said Food Democracy Now!, a group describing itself as a grassroots movement of more than 650,000 farmers and citizens, in a statement.

“The USDA's announcement of unapproved GMO wheat in U.S. fields is a major threat to the $8 billion wheat export market and undermines the faith of America's crops globally and the economic livelihoods of U.S. wheat farmers. 

The continued genetic contamination of organic and non-GMO farmers fields is another sign of how Monsanto's flawed technology continues to negatively impact family farmers and our food supply.”

You may read full statements and responses of each company and organization at the following:

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