USDA still pursuing GM wheat investigation


USDA officials say they are continuing to work as quickly as possible to determine how genetically engineered wheat wound up in a northeast Oregon field.

All of the evidence collected so far suggests that the incident remains limited to one field on one farm, USDA said in a press release. No genetically engineered wheat was found in seed and grain samples tested by USDA laboratories. Investigators interviewed 270 farmers.

Since the detection of the genetically engineered wheat in May, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has conducted an initial "re-review" of authorizations involving MON71800 field trials and related field test reports. APHIS continues to review the information and other potential sources of information.

"As necessary, we will take appropriate remedy measures and enforcement action," the APHIS press release stated. "We are moving forward with the investigation as expeditiously as possible."

From 1994 to 2005, APHIS issued 158 authorizations for field testing of the Monsanto variety in 16 states. All field trial applications and reports are managed by APHIS headquarters personnel. Each application and its design protocol are reviewed for sufficiency prior to the field test.

Not all authorized field tests were conducted. A change in research plans or adverse weather conditions may cause an applicant to cancel an authorized field test, according to APHIS.

"For some of these authorized field tests, APHIS was notified that the GE plants were never planted and the authorized field test was not conducted," the report states.

There is no evidence that the variety is in commerce or any of the other 15 states where MON71800 field tests were conducted, USDA said.

Blake Rowe, CEO of Oregon Wheat, said the update doesn't provide much new information, except for an increase in the number of farmers interviewed and information about field trials.

Field trials were one of the topics representatives from Japan wanted to talk about in detail when they met with USDA and industry officials in July, Rowe said.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries appears to be moving closer to a decision on resuming purchases of U.S. western white wheat, said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates.

Rowe said the industry needs to be patient and respect the ministry's process for resuming western white purchases.

"They have reports to write, people to report to, briefings to give, just like we would in this country," he said. "We have to give them room to get those things done and have a little bit of faith that they're being diligent, going through the steps they need to go through to finish their review and return to the market."

In discussions with MAFF officials, wheat industry officials asked if there were still any details they needed. Rowe said they didn't specifically ask for anything.

Rowe said the main item still on industry and customer wish lists is a final report.

"I don't know that we will get that any time soon or not," he said.

Mercer said the USDA update "couldn't hurt," when it came to relations with overseas wheat buyers.

"It doesn't say that there was no way this could have happened, clearly," he said. "But the implication is, as far as APHIS was concerned, it appears everything was done according to what anybody would describe as very strict standards in terms of management of that research material."