A strain of genetically engineered wheat never approved for sale or consumption was found sprouting on a farm in Oregon, the U.S. government said on Wednesday, and grain traders warned the discovery could hurt export prospects for U.S. wheat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the discovery of a wheat variety developed years ago by biotechnology giant Monsanto Co to be resistant to its Roundup herbicide. It was never put into use because of worldwide opposition to genetically engineered wheat.
USDA officials said there was no sign that genetically engineered wheat had entered the commercial market.
Wheat, long known as the staff of life, is a dietary staple used in making breads, pastries, cookies, breakfast cereal, noodles and other foods. Half of the U.S. crop is exported. Major buyers include Europe, Mexico, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines and South Korea.
USDA officials said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined years ago there is no health risk to humans from the strain. Monsanto’s last field tests on GE wheat were in 2005.
Michael Scuse, the acting U.S. deputy agriculture secretary, told reporters trading partners and major customers for U.S. wheat had been informed of the discovery.
“Hopefully, our trading partners will be very understanding,” Scuse said.
Scuse and Michael Firko, who heads USDA’s biotechnology regulatory office, said USDA was investigating how the strain could have appeared on the farm when no seeds should have been available for several years.
“NOBODY’S GOING TO WANT TO BUY WHEAT”
Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, said the group was still awaiting reaction from major international wheat buyers, adding that many Asian buyers were particularly sensitive to issues with genetically modified crops.
But wheat traders were alarmed, and bracing to see how buyers would respond – starting with a regular weekly wheat tender expected from Japan on Thursday.
“Nobody’s going to want to buy wheat from the PNW (Pacific Northwest) for a while,” said Roy Huckabay, analyst with the Linn Group in Chicago.