WHILE its investigation into the discovery of genetically-enhanced (GE) volunteer wheat continues in Oregon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed June 13 that it had thus far found no additional instances of the wheat in the area. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced May 29 that an Oregon farmer had discovered a small sample of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in a single field, but said that it appeared no unapproved wheat varieties had made it into commerce.
In an update issued Thursday, APHIS confirmed that additional testing associated with the investigation had thus far been negative, and reaffirmed that GE wheat did not appear in commerce.
“We can confirm that Monsanto has made the event-specific test available to other governments,” the statement said. “The focus of the ongoing investigation is the area surrounding the 123-acre field where the detection of the GE wheat volunteers has been confirmed.”
Monsanto, the originator of the Roundup Ready Wheat trait at the heart of the investigation, told reporters June 5 that it had made a gene-specific assay available to USDA and to interested U.S. trading partners for the purposes of testing imports of U.S. wheat. The company said other commercially-available GE tests were unreliable in wheat, and were likely to turn up a significant number of false-positive results.
In an update June 10, the company said it had completed validated tests on a broad set of wheat seed varieties that were available to wheat farmers throughout Oregon and Washington state regions, including the seed stock for the two varieties the farmer reportedly planted -- WestBred variety WB528 and a USDA-WSU variety (ROD). The tests included foundation seed for 56 varieties in addition to ROD/WB528, which collectively represented approximately 80% of all the acres of soft white winter/spring wheat seed varieties grown in this bi-state region for 2011.
To date, the company said its tests have confirmed that these samples show no detectable presence of MON 71800 (also known as “the CP4 event”).
Separately, Washington State University (WSU) launched a comprehensive effort to screen all wheat germplasm in its programs. The University said it has screened public and private varieties representing 90% Washington's soft white wheat crop and found no evidence of glyphosate-resistant wheat.
“We have also screened nearly three-fourths of the less heavily planted spring wheat varieties, with similar results,” WSU said in a statement. “It is a time-consuming process that to date has involved 60 varieties, 1,900 advanced breeding lines and more than 20,000 individual plots from WSU programs. The screening includes 26 commercially grown varieties from both WSU and Oregon State University, including new varieties such as Otto, Puma, Sprinter, Glee, Diva and Dayn. We expect testing to be done by the end of the month and will ultimately include all the germplasm in the WSU spring and winter wheat breeding programs and the Uniform Cereal Variety Testing Program.”
With testing from USDA, Monsanto and WSU thus far turning up no additional evidence of Roundup Ready Wheat outside the single volunteer detection, the question as to how GE wheat made it into the field in the first place is increasingly intriguing. Although it shuttered its GE wheat program 9 years ago, Monsanto said during its June 5 update that the company could not rule out “accidental or intentional” spread of the GE seed in question.