Wheat Grower Organizations: USDA successfully managed isolated GE wheat discovery

US Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) are aware that USDA has confirmed the discovery of a very small number of wheat plants that were genetically engineered (GE) to resist the herbicide glyphosate in an unplanted field in eastern Washington State.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) took prompt and thorough action to identify the regulated wheat event in those plants and has confirmed to us that:

the situation is isolated to only 22 plants in a fallow field;
there is no health risk associated with this wheat event based on Food and Drug Administration evaluation;
there is no evidence suggesting that this wheat event, or any other GM wheat event has entered US commercial supplies;
a validated test to detect this event in wheat was quickly produced and will be made available to trading partners if so desired;
Any market disruption will be limited and temporary.

The agency has kept our organizations, as well as government officials in several key overseas markets, informed as it worked to find the facts. In turn, our organizations have shared information about the situation with the domestic grain trade and downstream customer organizations, as well as overseas grain trade and buyers in several countries that import US wheat. As USW expected, Japan and Korea are being cautious about some new purchases of US wheat. Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) plans to temporarily suspend new purchases of western white wheat (soft white and 20 percent club wheat) from the PNW until it can validate and start using a new detection assay test provided by Monsanto and USDA. There may be temporary suspension of domestic distribution of western white that is already in-store Japan. The materials needed to create the test assay are in Japan and it should only take 2 to 3 weeks for MAFF to implement the testing. As we expect the testing will detect no GM wheat, the results will end the suspension very soon after it starts testing. In 2013, WW suspension was in place for 2 months.

The government of Korea is holding any US wheat from mills until it can implement the new test assay. With the test materials already in Korea, we believe the government will start testing US wheat as soon as this week. As we expect the testing will detect no GM wheat, Korea will likely begin clearing the currently in-store US wheat for distribution to the mills in their normal manner fairly soon and that the next vessels carrying US wheat which will arrive in Korea in the second half of August will be discharged and distributed under normal conditions.

USW, NAWG and state wheat organizations believe that APHIS has successfully managed this situation and provided sufficient evidence that this has not affected commercial wheat supplies. Based on that and other facts, we are very confident that nothing has changed the US wheat supply chain’s ability to deliver wheat that matches every customer’s specifications. In fact, the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Rural Affairs has issued a public statement saying that there is no concern from Korean experts, including officials from the Quarantine Inspection Agency (QIA), that GM wheat has been or will be introduced to Korea.

It is also important to note that grain import officials in Japan and Korea have tested for the GE event identified in 2013 in virtually every load of US wheat delivered to those countries since August 2013. The event has never been identified in more than 500 million bushels of wheat exported to Japan alone. In addition, researchers at Washington State University have been conducting routine phenotype screening for glyphosate tolerance in wheat since 2013. In each of the last three growing seasons, this field screening process has involved more than 80 varieties, 2,000 advanced breeding lines and more than 35,000 individual plots. Varieties included in these trials represent more than 95 percent of the wheat acreage planted in the state of Washington and much of the acreage planted in Oregon and Idaho. Screening to date has revealed no glyphosate tolerant wheat plants in these trials.

The federal systems in place ensure that unauthorized biotech products are tightly regulated and do not enter commercial channels. In fact, APHIS recently changed its rules to require developers to apply for a permit for field trials involving GE wheat. APHIS said this more stringent process will add protection that GE wheat will remain confined during the trials.

Nothing is more important to the US wheat industry than the trust we have earned with customers at home and around the world by providing a reliable supply of high-quality wheat. We thank our customers for their reasonable approach to this situation and we are confident that public and private breeders and federal regulators are taking all appropriate actions to ensure that US wheat, wheat flour and wheat foods remain safe, wholesome and nutritious for people, and in animal feed, around the world.

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