Bellingham, WA, May 29, 2013—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today that an unapproved variety of genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant wheat was found in samples taken from a farm in Oregon. The variety detected was the same variety that Monsanto grew in test plots in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. There are no genetically engineered wheat varieties currently approved for sale in the United States or any other country.
Michael Firko, Acting Deputy Administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services states in the USDA’s press release: “We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation. 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 Non-GMO Project responded immediately by coordinating a surveillance testing strategy to help assess the extent of the contamination. The testing plan includes sampling wheat products from the national retail market as well as raw plant material directly from Oregon. The first tests are scheduled for Thursday, May 30, less than 24 hours after the USDA’s announcement. According to Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project, “Our priority right now is to assure the integrity of Non-GMO Project Verified products and to assist in the USDA’s investigation. The current situation is yet another reminder of the serious risks posed by open-air field trials of unapproved GMO crops.”
This is not the first time a U.S. crop has been contaminated by an unapproved GMO. Most notably, in August 2006 the USDA announced that Bayer’s genetically engineered LibertyLink rice was found in two popular varieties of U.S. long-grain rice. The discovery led to rejection by foreign markets and a corresponding dramatic decline in U.S. rice prices. The LibertyLink contamination eventually resulted in a $750 million legal settlement between Germany-based Bayer AG and its affiliates and U.S. rice farmers. According to the Delta Farm Press, European Union purchases of U.S. rice remain only a small fraction of what they were before the 2006 contamination incident.
The U.S. wheat market has similar vulnerability. According to the Oregon Wheat Commission, Oregon exports 90% of its wheat production. More than 60 countries now require labeling of GMOs, and international regulations on import and sale of unapproved GMO varieties are strict.
With the Non-GMO Project Verified label currently the fastest-growing claim in the natural products industry and more than 30 states now working toward mandatory GMO labeling, widespread GMO contamination in wheat would also have serious repercussions for the domestic market. Westgate adds, “We remain hopeful that this is an isolated incident, but the Non-GMO Project will do whatever it takes to protect the consumer’s right to know.”
About the Non-GMO Project
The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. Find out more at dev.nongmoproject.org.