It has been a challenging few weeks for many wheat farmers in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and across the country. No doubt the loyal U.S. wheat buyers those farmers value so much have also faced challenges since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced May 29 it had identified an unapproved genetically modified, glyphosate-resistant trait in volunteer wheat on a single Oregon field. That trait is a “Roundup Ready” gene that Monsanto tested in wheat, with federal approval, between 1998 and 2005, but did not commercialize.
USW and the farmers we represent take this situation very seriously. We were pleased to receive public confirmation from APHIS on June 14 that it has found no genetically modified traits in wheat seed or commercial supplies in recent tests it has conducted. However, nothing is more important than the trust we have earned from our customers by providing a reliable supply of high-quality wheat for a wide range of products. USW, the U.S. government and grain handlers are making sure buyers, government agencies and end users have the most accurate information as quickly as it becomes available from the ongoing APHIS investigation. We are all working with our customers to help them make informed decisions about policies and wheat purchases.
Unfortunately, we are concerned about what we consider inaccurate or misleading information that is appearing in some news stories and from other sources. Transparency has always been a respected part of the service USW provides; it is in that spirit that we address the facts here as we know them.
This discovery is isolated. There is no evidence that wheat with this trait has entered commercial channels.
In April, an unnamed farmer applied the herbicide glyphosate on a field in eastern Oregon that had been left unplanted (or fallow) since the summer of 2012, a common practice in the arid inter-mountain Pacific Northwest. That field had some wheat plants growing in it that he considered “volunteers” (plants that were not purposely seeded, nor would be harvested). The farmer said he found randomly a handful of wheat plants the herbicide did not control. This is unusual, so he sent samples of those plants to an Oregon State University weed scientist who then conducted tests on the samples. Those tests indicated that the wheat plants contained a glyphosate resistant trait. APHIS was informed and immediately began the formal investigation that is still underway.
APHIS stated specifically in its initial announcement that no information exists indicating that this regulated trait has entered the commercial supply chain and has not changed its public position that this is an isolated situation. USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) continues to issue a letter stating that “no transgenic wheat varieties are available for sale or in commercial production in the United States at this time.”
- There has been no other report of natural or genetically modified glyphosate resistance in wheat.
APHIS confirmed publicly that “testing associated with the investigation so far has been negative and that we have no information that GE wheat is in commerce.” In addition, the statement says GIPSA “is working toward making available appropriate and validated testing techniques to address market needs.”
Since APHIS published this information June 14, USDA continues responding to a broad appeal from farmers and overseas customers to share more information about their investigation. USW has indications that high-level USDA officials have also corresponded directly with government counterparts in Japan, Korea and other markets. On behalf of the farmers we represent, USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) want to thank USDA for making the potential market impact of this situation a priority.