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USDA Identifies Two Monsanto Strains in Rogue GMO Wheat in Washington State

The GMO wheat discovered growing wild in a Washington State field this spring actually sprouted from two different strains developed by Monsanto, the USDA announced over the weekend. Genetically engineered wheat is not approved for cultivation anywhere in the world, yet volunteer herbicide-resistant plants have been confirmed four times in the U.S. Northwest more than a decade after field trials ended.

In the latest case, USDA said “thorough testing” identified the wheat as Monsanto strains MON 71300 and MON 71800. The MON 71800 strain also was identified in the first U.S. case of rogue GMO wheat, in eastern Oregon in 2013. The same strain was found growing wild in 2014 at a Montana State University research farm in Huntley, Montana. A different strain, MON 71700, was found in 22 wheat plants in a field in Washington State in 2016.

“There is no evidence that any GE wheat has entered commerce or is in the food supply,” said USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in an update of the new case. It has issued similar conclusions on the past incidents. And, as in the past, it cited the FDA position that there would be no safety concerns if low levels of the wheat varieties were present in the food supply.

A test kit will be offered to U.S. trading partners to identify MON 71300, said the APHIS. Previously, the USDA has provided test kits for the two other strains. Japan and South Korea, two major importers of wheat from the U.S. Northwest, have tested wheat shipments for GMO content since 2013 and have not found issues with the U.S. grain.

Unlike previous incidents, neither Japan nor South Korea interrupted purchases of U.S. wheat following the announcement of rogue wheat in Washington State. Last year, the two countries halted purchases of Canadian wheat for a month due to confirmation of GE wheat along an access road in southern Alberta.

Washington State often is the fourth-largest wheat-growing state in the nation. The Washington Grain Commission says 85% to 90% of the state’s wheat is exported, mainly to Pacific Rim nations.

In the three other U.S. incidents, the USDA did not identify the source of the wheat seeds or how a GMO variety survived in the wild. In all of the incidents, the plants attracted attention because they did not die when sprayed with a weedkiller. Monsanto genetically modified wheat to tolerate doses of Roundup herbicide.

The Trump administration is a supporter of U.S. agricultural biotechnology. President Trump signed an executive order in mid-June to modernize ag biotech and, referring to gene-edited crops and livestock, told the USDA, FDA, and EPA to use their existing powers “to exempt low-risk products of agricultural biotechnology for undue regulation.”

To read a USDA list of glyphosate-resistance wheat incidents, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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