USDA stumped in probe into unauthorized GE wheat found in Oregon

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2014 - After a 16-month investigation, USDA says it's been unable to determine how unapproved genetically-engineered wheat made its way into a farm field in Oregon last year.

The 12,842-page report, released today by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), offers no conclusions as to how the plants, which contained a trait developed by Monsanto that makes them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, came to grow in the field.

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“We were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened,” Bernadette Juarez, the director of investigation and enforcement services at APHIS and the chief investigator for the Oregon incident, said in a conference call with reporters.

The report, however, said the detection, which came to USDA's attention in May 2013, appears to have been an isolated incident and there is no evidence GE wheat found its way into commercial channels.

The report said the wheat found in Oregon was not a commercial variety, but a hybrid that includes genetic material from other types and varieties of wheat, along with the GE glyphosate-resistant trait developed by Monsanto. The genetic characteristics of the GE wheat are representative of a wheat breeding program, USDA said.

Juarez said the theory that the wheat was planted intentionally -- to undermine the acceptance of GE products -- was explored, but could not be ruled out or confirmed.

She said the investigation was “one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations ever conducted” through APHIS. She said her team closed the investigation that began on May 3, 2013, after exhausting all leads.

APHIS said it conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers. Investigators also collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold or purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.

“After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer's field,” the agency concluded.  

Juarez also discussed a new investigation of GE wheat found growing in July at a Montana State University research center. Authorized field trials of GE wheat had been conducted at the site from 2000 to 2003.

Juarez said genetic testing shows that the GE wheat recently found at this research facility was similar to the wheat tested more than a decade earlier. It contains the same Monsanto trait that makes it resistant to glyphosate, and but she said the variety of the plant is “significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.”

The Montana incident affected between 1-3 acres in total. About 125 acres were investigated in the Oregon GE wheat discovery. APHIS said the investigation into the Montana incident is continuing, and emphasized that this event is not related to the event in Oregon.

 

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