The Federal government revealed late Friday that genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in Washington.
In an email sent one hour before the end of the federal work week, Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service acknowledged the discovery but didn’t disclose the location, or say when the wheat was discovered. APHIS is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The discovery could have significant consequences for Montana. Genetically modified wheat is banned by foreign buyers of U.S. wheat. More than 70 percent of Montana’s grain is sold overseas, namely to Japan and other buyers in the Asia Pacific.
This is the third discovery of wheat genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate. It is the first GMO wheat discovery since the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015. Glyphosate is commonly referred to as Roundup.
In May, a jury awarded $2.055 billion damages to a couple claiming that Monsanto’s popular weed killer Roundup caused their cancers.
“Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the discovery of genetically engineered wheat plants growing in an unplanted agricultural field in Washington State,” APHIS said in its announcement. “The GE wheat in question is resistant to glyphosate, commonly referred to as Roundup. There is no evidence that GE wheat has entered the food supply.”
Although “Roundup Ready” corn, sugar beets and other crops are marketed, genetically modified wheat has never been cleared for commercial production in the United States. It has been planted for testing, in which Montana played a role.
Montana was host to testing of genetically modified wheat in 2002 and 2003 at the Montana State University Southern Agriculture Research Center in Huntley. The last discovery of GMO wheat prior to the one announced Friday was in 2014 at the research center. It was a “volunteer crop,” meaning no one had intentionally planted the grain on the site for a decade. The 2014 plants were rogue.
Because the 2014 discovery was at a research center and not a farm where commercial harvesting might have allowed the GMO wheat to spread by freight or dirty farm equipment, foreign countries were tolerant of the discovery.
The year before, several Asian countries banned U.S. wheat after soft white spring wheat discovered in an Oregon field where commercial crops were grown. The genetically modified plants in Oregon were spread over more than 100 acres, where GMO wheat was never known to be planted. They were not the same variety as the wheat discovered in Huntley. However the volunteer wheat in Oregon was believed to have originated from testing at facilities controlled by Washington State University or Montana State University.