Second Discovery of Unapproved GM Wheat in the U.S.

Dear Friends and Colleagues 

Second Discovery of Unapproved GM Wheat in the U.S. 

Unapproved genetically modified (GM) wheat developed by Monsanto has recently been found growing at a research facility of Montana State University, which ended field trials on it over a decade ago. This is the second such finding of GM wheat, following the discovery of another unapproved Monsanto GM wheat variety in an Oregon farm last year. Both varieties are resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. (See Items 1 and 2). 

GM wheat has not been approved for commercial release anywhere in the world. The Oregon discovery resulted in countries like South Korea and Japan temporarily stopping imports of U.S. wheat and there are concerns that the Montana incident will trigger the same reaction. Several Oregon farmers sued Monsanto for failing to protect the market from contamination and the parties have agreed to a settlement. “Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country,” says Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its final report on the Oregon case. While admitting that it did not know how the contamination occurred, it has dismissed it as an “isolated incident” and declared that the GM wheat was not found in commercial supplies. It is currently investigating the Montana event. (See Item 3). 

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Item 1


Mary Clare Jalonick, The China Post

Unregulated genetically modified wheat has popped up in a second location in the United States, this time in state of Montana, the Agriculture Department said Friday.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, and the discovery of unapproved varieties can pose a potential threat to U.S. trade with countries that have concerns about genetically modified foods.

USDA said Friday that the incident is on a smaller scale than a similar finding in the state of Oregon last year that prompted several Asian countries to temporarily ban U.S. wheat imports.

The herbicide-resistant wheat was found on one to three acres in Montana, while the genetically engineered plants found in Oregon were spread over more than 100 acres. And the plants were found at a university research center in Huntley, Montana, where genetically modified wheat was legally tested by seed giant Monsanto 11 years ago. The plants in Oregon were found in a field that had never conducted such tests, prompting questions about how they got there.

The department said it is investigating the discovery of the Montana wheat, which is a different variety than the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon. USDA said the wheat would be safe to eat, but none of it entered the market.

In a final report also released Friday, USDA said it believes the genetically modified wheat in Oregon was an isolated incident and that there is no evidence of that wheat in commerce. The report says the government still doesn’t know how the modified seeds got into the fields.

The discovery of the genetically modified wheat in Oregon in 2013 prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, and the European Union called for more rigorous testing of U.S. shipments.

Monsanto Co. suggested last year that some of the company’s detractors may have intentionally planted the seeds. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said in June 2013 that sabotage is the most likely scenario, partly because the modified wheat was not distributed evenly throughout the field and was found in patches.

“It’s fair to say there are folks who don’t like biotechnology and would use this to create problems,” he said then.

Bernadette Juarez, who oversees investigative and enforcement efforts for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the department wasn’t able to prove any such scenarios.

“Ultimately, we weren’t able to make a determination of how it happened,” she said.

In a statement Friday, a Monsanto spokeswoman did not repeat Fraley’s 2013 speculation about sabotage but said the report provides closure. Monsanto also said it is fully cooperating with the investigation into the Montana wheat.

Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center, where the modified wheat was found, also said it has been cooperating with USDA’s investigation.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already genetically modified to resist certain herbicides or to have other traits. But the country’s wheat crop is not, as some wheat farmers have shown reluctance to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly by people. Much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed for animals.

Some in the wheat industry have also been concerned that genetically modified wheat, if ever approved, would contaminate conventional wheat, causing problems with exports. Opponents of modified crops used the Oregon wheat as an example of that threat. “Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director for Center for Food Safety.

There has been little evidence to show that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but several states have considered laws that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating. Vermont became the first state to enact such a law this year, though it is being challenged in court.

Item 2


by Carey Gillam, Reuters

Monsanto Co’s experimental genetically engineered wheat, never approved for sale, has been found growing in a second U.S. state, and regulators said on Friday they could not explain how the plants escaped field trials that ended almost a decade ago.

About a year after discovery of the company’s unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has also been found in Montana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said on Friday.

APHIS launched an investigation into the Montana discovery on July 14, said Bernadette Juarez, director of investigative and enforcement services for APHIS.

The wheat was found growing at a research facility for Montana State University in Huntley, where field trials of Monsanto’s wheat were conducted between 2000 and 2003, she said in a news conference.

After conclusion of field trials, crop developers like Monsanto are obligated to inform regulators of any "volunteers," or plants that grow on their own following a previous harvest, Juarez said.

Monsanto said in a statement that it and Montana state notified APHIS of the unintended GMO wheat and were "cooperating fully" with the government investigation.

USDA officials said there are no health and safety concerns from Monsanto GMO wheat, and that they do not believe the wheat has entered commerce. The area where it was found primarily produces sugar beets and barley, not wheat, Juarez said.

The varieties of wheat in Montana differ significantly from Oregon’s, but both contain Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant trait.

There is no commercially approved genetically modified wheat. The wheat in question was developed by Monsanto to withstand treatments of its Roundup weed killer, but the company never commercialized the "Roundup Ready" wheat. International buyers threatened to boycott U.S. wheat if the product was introduced to the marketplace.

Monsanto said in 2004 that it was ending efforts to commercialize the GMO wheat, and the wheat was supposed to have been destroyed or stored securely.

Monsanto and several other companies are still trying to develop a biotech wheat acceptable to the market. APHIS said on Friday it was stepping up oversight of those field trials.

Word of the wheat in Montana comes after last year’s discovery by an Oregon farmer of the GMO wheat in his field. That discovery prompted South Korea and Japan to temporarily halt purchases of U.S. wheat due to fears of contamination.

APHIS said on Friday that despite a "comprehensive" investigation, the agency has not determined how the biotech wheat came to grow in Oregon. No field trials were ever authorized on that Oregon farm.

Juarez said there would not be any penalties or disciplinary action against Monsanto for the Oregon incident.

Several farmers sued Monsanto, however, accusing the company of failing to protect the market from contamination.

The parties agreed to settle, prior to the announcement of the Montana wheat discovery.


Item 3


After conducting a thorough and scientifically detailed investigation into the detection last year of genetically engineered (GE) wheat growing in a single field on a single farm in Oregon, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has concluded that the presence of the GE wheat appears to be an isolated incident. The GE wheat found on the Oregon farm was developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup.

APHIS closed the investigation after exhausting all leads. The agency also found no evidence of GE wheat in commerce. APHIS is releasing today its findings and full report of investigation and evidence file, with appropriate personal information and confidential business information redacted.

Additionally, APHIS has opened a new investigation into a regulatory compliance issue involving GE wheat found growing at a research facility that was the previous site of authorized field trials in Montana. GE wheat was field-tested under APHIS’ regulatory approval at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana, between 2000 and 2003. Genetic testing shows that the GE wheat at this research facility location is significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.

APHIS has not deregulated any GE wheat varieties to date, and thus, there are no GE wheat varieties for sale or in commercial production in the United States. Additionally, the genetic trait detected in the wheat in these two instances does not present a food safety issue because FDA completed a food safety consultation for this GE wheat in 2004 and expressed no food safety concerns.

Oregon Investigation

APHIS began its comprehensive investigation into the detection of GE wheat on the Oregon farm on May 3, 2013.  During the following 10 months, APHIS conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers, and collected and carefully reviewed thousands of pages of evidence. Additionally, APHIS collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold and purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.

The investigation indicates that this appears to be an isolated occurrence and that there is no evidence of any GE wheat in commerce. Information collected during the investigation was instrumental in providing critical information to trading partners to keep foreign wheat markets open. After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field.

The investigation also found that the GE wheat is not a commercial variety of wheat. Instead, the genetic characteristics of the GE wheat volunteers are representative of a wheat breeding program.

A copy of the 12,842 pages that comprise the complete report of investigation and evidence file that has been redacted for personal information and confidential business information is available on the APHIS website at

Montana Investigation

On July 14, 2014, APHIS was notified that suspected GE wheat had been discovered growing at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana, where Monsanto and researchers grew GE wheat as part of field trials between 2000 and 2003. These field tests were conducted under APHIS’ regulatory approval.

APHIS immediately began an investigation into this regulatory compliance issue and sampled wheat at the SARC. Testing of the samples by a USDA laboratory confirmed that the wheat is genetically engineered to resist Roundup.  Further genetic testing shows that the GE wheat collected from the field in Montana was not the source of the GE wheat found growing in the single field in Oregon.

Among other things, APHIS’ ongoing investigation is focusing on why GE wheat was found growing at the research facility location. GE wheat from the facility has not been allowed to enter commercial channels this year and GE wheat grown as part of authorized field trials at this research facility between 2000 and 2003 was likewise not allowed to enter commercial channels.  None of the wheat is sold as seed.  APHIS will provide more information when it concludes its investigation.

Next Steps

As it continues its investigation in Montana, APHIS is also taking several additional steps to ensure that unintended GE wheat is not growing in other locations in the United States where field trials are taking place or have recently occurred. APHIS will inspect field trials planted in 2014, and follow-up with post-harvest inspections to ensure those conducting the field trials adhere to APHIS’ requirements to monitor for, and remove, volunteer plants (plants that grow in a field following a previous harvest). It will also conduct some post-harvest volunteer monitoring inspections of GE wheat field trials that were planted in 2012 and 2013. Beyond this, APHIS is assessing other measures – such as the requirements it puts in place for field tests involving GE wheat, as well as the frequency of its inspections of field test sites – to minimize the potential for any further incidents involving GE wheat.

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