A genetically modified strain of wheat that was never approved by the United States Department of Agriculture as been discovered growing in Oregon, triggering a federal probe that is now spanning several states.
Investigators with the USDA want to know why the GMO crop, made by biotech company Monsanto but never approved for use, sprouted up in a field in the Pacific Northwest.
America’s wheat trade could be jeopardized if concerns grow among foreign consumers already weary of genetically engineered and modified organisms. Several countries across the European Union have banned thecultivation of GMO crops, and last weekend anti-Monsanto demonstrations were attended by millions of protesters on six continents.
The USDA has yet to approve any GMO strain of wheat to be grown in the US, but Monsanto field tested a genetically engineered variety from 1998 through 2005 before withdrawing their application from the agency’s regulatory approval process.
The wheat, resistant to Monsanto’s patented pesticide Roundup, is one of many GMO crops in the company’s line of “Roundup Ready” products. After a farmer in Oregon noticed that wheat plants on his property were still growing despite dousing his field with the pesticide, he alerted Michael Firko, the deputy administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.
“We are taking this very seriously,” Firko said. “We have a very active investigation going on in several states in the western US.”
According to a 2003 article in the Billings, Montana Gazette, Monsanto pledged that its GMO wheat crop resistant to strong pesticides would not be introduced commercially until proven complete safe and approved in the US, Canada and Japan.
"We have to prove the safety of the gene, the food, the animal feed and the environment. That it is as safe as unmodified varieties and (nutritionally) is substantially equivalent to commercial varieties,” Monsanto’s then director of industry affairs, Michael Doane, told the Gazette at the time.
So far, the USDA has determined that the wheat crop in question was the same variety tested by Monsanto up until eight years ago. The US Food and Drug Administration found no safety concerns with the crop after completing a test in 2004, but Monsanto suspended plans to follow through with the product the following year without receiving the USDA’s stamp of approval.
Despite growing criticism from agriculturalists, environmentalists and consumers over potential health risks, Monsanto continues to attest that GMOs could change the world’s food landscape for the better.
“There is space in the supermarket shelf for all of us,” Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told a reporter for Bloomberg earlier this month.
USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse confirmed to Agri-Pulse that state agriculture directors in Oregon, Washington and Idaho are now coordinating a multi-state investigation, and foreign trade representatives in Canada, Mexico and Asia have been contacted.
“Hopefully our trading partners will be very understanding,” Scuse said, emphasizing “this is not a food or feed issue.”