MINNEAPOLIS — The discovery of unapproved GMO wheat in a Washington state farmers’ field could have serious consequences for U.S. exports of the staple crop.
On July 29, the USDA published a statement from its Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), confirming the discovery of “22 genetically engineered (GE) wheat plants growing in an unplanted agricultural field in Washington State.”
The plants were identified as MON 71700, a variety of GE wheat developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the agribusiness giant’s popular but controversial weed-killer, Roundup, which contains the potentially carcinogenic chemical glyphosate. Although the plants have been used in scientific testing, no forms of GE wheat are currently approved by the USDA for agricultural use in the United States.
Although the source of the plants in the abandoned field is unknown, APHIS is reacting to the discovery with extreme caution, which could render the farmer’s entire harvest worthless:
“APHIS is testing the farmer’s full wheat harvest for the presence of any GE material. The farmer’s harvest is complete, and it continues to be held while USDA completes tests of the grain. So far all samples continue to be negative for any GE material. If any wheat tests positive for GE material, the farmer’s crop will not be allowed in commerce.”
It’s not the first time Monsanto’s unapproved wheat products have escaped into the wild. On Monday, Lorraine Chow reported for EcoWatch:
“GMO wheat contamination is somewhat of a sore subject for Monsanto. In 2014, the agritech giant paid $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by U.S. wheat farmers over the GMO wheat scare in Oregon. Last year, the company paid another $350,000 to farmers in seven states over the same issue.
Monsanto told the AP that the type of GMO wheat found in Washington state is similar to the one discovered in Oregon in 2013.”
The latest discovery of GE wheat plants in Washington is also having an effect on the global export market, which is still skittish about past contamination issues with wheat and other Monsanto crops.
“Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said it will suspend purchases of all Western White wheat from the United States for food use, and all purchases of Western White wheat from the U.S. West Coast, but not from the Gulf, for feed use until it can start testing incoming shipments, according to the USDA,” Reuters reported on Monday. “Japan has also suspended distribution of all previously purchased U.S. wheat until testing is established.”
South Korea seems similarly alarmed by the reports:
“South Korea has suspended clearance of U.S. wheat for food use, the USDA said. South Korea, the fifth largest market for U.S. wheat, had already said it would step up quarantine measures for U.S. milling and feed wheat shipments.”
Reuters reported that the USDA is providing both nations with testing supplies in hopes that they’ll lift the quarantine.
“The protocols that were in place to keep this stuff contained were as good as we could think of at the time — I’m sure they’re better now than they were 10 or 15 years ago, but still, it’s a mystery as how that stuff is showing up there,” Ben Barstow, a farmer from Palouse, Washington, told Capital Press, an agricultural news site covering the western U.S.
According to Matthew Weaver, Capital Press’ Northeast Washington reporter, the contamination issue is compounding an already difficult growing season.
“The GE wheat discovery comes during a season that has also seen concerns about protein levels, falling number tests, stripe rust and low prices,” Weaver reported.
And, as Barstow noted, “It’s just one more thing.”