Health Impact News Editor Comments:
Contrary to popular opinion frequently expressed on the Internet, there are currently no GMO varieties of wheat in the U.S. market, as it has never been approved by the USDA. Many of the problems of modern wheat and issues like gluten sensitivity stem from the long history of hybridization of wheat varieties, and NOT genetic modification.
However, the USDA announced today (May 29, 2013) that they had found the presence of GMO wheat on a farm in Oregon (press release in video above). Monsanto was authorized to field test a variety of GMO wheat from 1998 to 2005, but it was never approved. Since these field tests occurred in 16 states, there is no telling how far and how wide the contamination may have occurred. An Oregon State University scientist made the discovery and reported it to the USDA.
The USDA, of course, claims that there are no safety concerns. They claim that a “voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat” was conducted in 2004. In the same breath, they make it clear that the party responsible for the contamination is liable for criminal prosecution and a $1 million fine.
Will the USDA make this study from 2004 public? Do you feel reassured by the USDA’s claims that this illegal GMO wheat now found on farms in Oregon is safe?
Monsanto has stated that they do not know how the GM wheat got to the farm in Oregon, because it is not one of the original test farms. They also state that wheat seed seldom survives more than two years in the soil, and the last test planting in Oregon was in 2004. So who knows where, and how long, this GM wheat has been growing since 2004. Field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming 1998 through 2005.
UPDATE: Japan and Korea have now announced they will stop importing U.S. Wheat. More than 50% of the wheat in the U.S. is exported to other countries.
UPDATE: In what is expected to be the first of many lawsuits, a Kansas wheat farm is suing Monsanto: Kansas Wheat Farmer Sues Monsanto for Gross Negligence Following Discovery of Unauthorized Genetically Modified Wheat
Here is the full text of the USDA announcement:
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2013 –The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today that test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. Further testing by USDA laboratories indicates the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. APHIS launched a formal investigation after being notified by an Oregon State University scientist that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. There are no GE wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States or elsewhere at this time.
The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in 2004. For the consultation, the developer provided information to FDA to support the safety of this wheat variety. FDA completed the voluntary consultation with no further questions concerning the safety of grain and forage derived from this wheat, meaning that this variety is as safe as non-GE wheat currently on the market.
“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation,” said Michael Firko, Acting Deputy Administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services, “Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened. We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. 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.
APHIS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ FDA work together to regulate the safe use of organisms derived from modern biotechnology. APHIS regulates the introduction (meaning the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release/field testing) of certain GE organisms that may pose a risk to plant health. EPA regulates pesticides, including plants with plant-incorporated protectants (pesticides intended to be produced and used in a living plant), to ensure public safety. EPA also sets limits on pesticide residues on food and animal feed. FDA has primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of human food and animal feed, as well as safety of all plant-derived foods and feeds.
Statements from Monsanto:
The company’s own internal investigation has confirmed that it did not have any prior test site at the location where the material under investigation was reported to have been present.
The company’s internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil or wheat pollen flow serve as a reasonable explanation behind this reported detection at this time. Researchers, both in the public and private sectors, acknowledge that the viability of wheat seed — which on average lasts 1 to 2 years in the soil. Wheat is predominantly a self-pollinating plant and research highlights that 99 percent of wheat pollen moves less than 30 feet from its source.
Field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming (1998 through 2005).
Excerpts from the N.Y. Times:
The mere presence of the genetically modified plant could cause some countries to turn away exports of American wheat, especially if any traces of the unapproved grain were found in shipments. About $8.1 billion in American wheat was exported in 2012, representing nearly half the total $17.9 billion crop, according to U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes American wheat abroad. About 90 percent of Oregon’s wheat crop is exported.
Monsanto has now resumed research into genetically modified wheat but says it will be at least a decade before any such crop reaches the market.
Mr. Firko said the rice situation was different because the grain was found in commercial supplies. In the case of the wheat, the genetically modified plants were growing where they were not wanted, like a weed.
When the farmer tried to kill them with glyphosate, “a small percentage of them didn’t die,” Mr. Firko said. The farmer had them tested at Oregon State University, which found the Roundup-resistant gene in them. That finding has since been confirmed by the Agriculture Department.