Unapproved GE Wheat Contaminates US Farm



Dear friends and colleagues,

Re: Unapproved GE Wheat Contaminates US Farm

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on 29 May 2013 that test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants (Items 1 and 2). A farmer had discovered the GE wheat plants on his farm and contacted Oregon State University, which notified USDA.

Monsanto was authorized to field test the same variety in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. It is not known how the contamination occurred, almost 8 years after field tests ended. In fact, the authorities last approved field trials of glyphosate-resistant GE wheat in Oregon in 2001.

No GE wheat varieties are approved for sale or are in commercial production in the US or anywhere else in the world. While Monsanto had applied to USDA for permission to develop the GE wheat, the company later halted these plans in 2004 after it became clear that wheat importers would not accept GE varieties. The US is the world’s biggest wheat exporter and exports about half of its wheat crop.

While there is no evidence yet that the unapproved wheat has entered the commercial market, the discovery prompted Japan to suspend imports of western-white wheat and feed wheat from the US. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries canceled its plan to buy 24,926 tons of western-white wheat in an import tender (Item 3).

In the meantime, the EU is asking its member states to test incoming shipments, which would be blocked if they contained the unapproved GE wheat. South Korea, Asia’s second-biggest grain buyer, has reportedly increased inspections of feed wheat imports from the US. It is investigating all wheat and wheat products imported from the US and could halt or return the products if traces of the GE wheat are found. Similarly, flour millers in Taiwan are reviewing imports of wheat from the US and they may seek a guarantee from suppliers that only non-GE grain will be imported.

With best wishes,

 Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang


Email: twnet@po.jaring.my

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Item 1


USDA investigates detection of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat in Oregon

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today that test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicate the presence of genetically engineered (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. Further testing by USDA laboratories indicates the presence of the same GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005. APHIS launched a formal investigation after being notified by an Oregon State University scientist that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of GE glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. There are no GE wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States or elsewhere at this time.

The detection of this wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from this GE glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in 2004. For the consultation, the developer provided information to FDA to support the safety of this wheat variety. FDA completed the voluntary consultation with no further questions concerning the safety of grain and forage derived from this wheat, meaning that this variety is as safe as non-GE wheat currently on the market.

“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation,” said Michael Firko, Acting Deputy Administrator for APHIS‚ Biotechnology Regulatory Services, “Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened. We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation.”

The Plant Protection Act (PPA) provides for substantial penalties for serious infractions. Should APHIS determine that this situation was the result of a violation of the PPA, APHIS has the authority to seek penalties for such a violation including civil penalties up to $1,000,000 and has the authority to refer the matter for criminal prosecution, if appropriate.

APHIS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‚ FDA work together to regulate the safe use of organisms derived from modern biotechnology. APHIS regulates the introduction (meaning the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release/field testing) of certain GE organisms that may pose a risk to plant health. EPA regulates pesticides, including plants with plant-incorporated protectants (pesticides intended to be produced and used in a living plant), to ensure public safety. EPA also sets limits on pesticide residues on food and animal feed. FDA has primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of human food and animal feed, as well as safety of all plant-derived foods and feeds.

– Questions and Answers


– Information about USDA’s Regulation of Biotechnology


– Information about FDA’s Regulation of Biotechnology


– Video


Item 2


Rogue Oregon wheat stirs foes of Monsanto gene-altered crops

Bloomberg, USA, by Alan Bjerga and Jack Kaskey


The discovery in an Oregon field of gene-altered wheat developed by Monsanto Co. that never won approval shows a failure of oversight that safety advocates say may endanger consumers and U.S. trading relationships.

Scientists said the rogue wheat was a strain tested from 1998 to 2005 by Monsanto, the world’s largest seedmaker, which withdrew its application for approval amid concern buyers would avoid crops from the U.S., the world’s biggest wheat exporter.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday it is investigating how the unapproved seeds slipped out and were growing nine years after St. Louis-based Monsanto ended its wheat program. The discovery prompted Japan to suspend imports of western-white wheat and feed wheat. Other overseas buyers may follow suit, according to critics including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety.

“This will have an impact worldwide, because our trading partners do not want genetically modified wheat,” Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union in New York, said in an interview. “This crop may be safe to eat, or it may not be. We don’t know because we haven’t done the proper scrutiny.”

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries also canceled its plan to buy 24,926 tons of western-white wheat from U.S. in an import tender today, said Hiromi Iwahama, director for grain trade operations at the ministry.

Wheat for July delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade dropped as much as 0.9 percent to $6.9625 a bushel and was at $6.985 at 12013-06-03 10:56:153 p.m. Tokyo time. Futures have slumped 10 percent this year.

StarLink, Rice

Unauthorized releases of biotech products such as corn and rice have been costly to U.S. farmers and shippers including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. in the past, according to a 2008 Government Accountability Office study of six unintentional releases of genetically modified products.

The 2000 release of Aventis SA’s StarLink corn cost as much as $288 million in lost revenue and a year-long drop in the grain’s price, the GAO reported. The 2006 release of Bayer AG (BAYN)’s Liberty Link rice cost as much as $1.29 billion in lost exports, food recalls and other expenses, the GAO said, citing an environmental advocacy group. Bayer agreed last year to pay $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 U.S. farmers.

Government investigators are tracking the wheat plants‚ origin and assuring trade partners the exposure is limited and poses no threat to human health, said Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. No evidence exists that the unapproved wheat has entered the commercial food or feed supply, he said.

Roundup Herbicide

“We are taking this very seriously,” Firko said yesterday. “We have a very active investigation going on in several states in the western U.S.”

The farmer in Oregon was attempting to kill wheat using Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide when he found several plants survived, the USDA said yesterday.

Monsanto said the Oregon discovery is isolated and shouldn’t concern consumers or trading partners. The company halted plans to develop modified wheat in May 2004 after the Canadian Wheat Board, then the world’s largest grain seller, said its 10 biggest red spring-wheat importers, including Japan, the U.K. and Malaysia, wouldn’t accept the varieties.

The wheat discovered in Oregon was bred to resist glyphosate, the key ingredient of Roundup. The product permits farmers to kill unwanted plants without endangering the crop developed to resist it, which the company markets as Roundup Ready.

Monsanto Statement

“There are no food, feed, or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it is found to be present in wheat,” Monsanto said in a statement. “This is the first report of the Roundup Ready trait being found out of place since Monsanto’s commercial development program was discontinued nine years ago.”

The company resumed efforts to develop modified wheat in 2009 with its $45 million purchase of WestBred LLC. Monsanto was responding to farmers in the U.S., Canada and Australia who called for development of modified wheat to better compete with corn and soybeans that had undergone yield gains resulting from genetic engineering, the company said at the time.

The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based group that has successfully sued the USDA over its approvals of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa, called for a moratorium on field testing gene-altered crops until the circumstances and prevalence of the wheat contamination are determined.

Serious Breakdown

“This is another serious breakdown of their field trial system, which endangers farmers and the entire wheat industry,” Bill Freese, the center’s science policy analyst, said by telephone. “It’s especially troubling here because there hasn’t been a field trial of Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon since 2001, so it’s totally unclear where this is coming from.”

The USDA needs to replace flexible standards for field tests with rules that determine how experimental crops are planted, such as setting minimum distances between fields, Freese said.

The renegade wheat was discovered amid a revival of opposition to genetically engineered foods. Activists rallied in 36 countries on May 25 for a March Against Monsanto, arguing that the company is trying to overturn disclosure laws in the European Union and engineered legal protections for its crops in the U.S. omnibus spending bill in March.

U.S. lawmakers are pushing measures to require labeling of products made from genetically modified crops, a proposal opposed by farm groups and sellers such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Environmental groups have secured pledges from grocers including Target Corp. and Trader Joe’s Co. not to sell genetically modified salmon, which is in the final stages of review by the Food and Drug Administration.

The location of the Oregon farm wasn’t disclosed because of the nature of the investigation, the USDA said. Officials from Oregon, Washington and Idaho along with Monsanto and U.S. trading partners were notified before the announcement.

Criminal violations of the Plant Protection Act may include civil penalties up to $1 million.

Item 3

US genetically modified wheat stokes fears, Japan cancels tender

Naveen Thukral

Reuters, May 30 2013

*Genetically engineered wheat found sprouting on a farm in Oregon; other Asian wheat importers closely monitoring the situation

Singapore/Tokyo: A strain of genetically modified (GM) wheat found in the US fuelled concerns over food supplies across Asia on Thursday, with major importer Japan cancelling a tender offer to buy US grain.

Other top Asian wheat importers South Korea, China and the Philippines said they were closely monitoring the situation after the US government found genetically engineered wheat sprouting on a farm in the state of Oregon.

The strain was never approved for sale or consumption.

Asian consumers are keenly sensitive to gene-altered food, with few countries allowing imports of such cereals for human consumption. However, most of the corn and soybean shipped from the US and South America for animal feed is genetically modified.

“We will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat effective today,” Toru Hisadome, a Japanese farm ministry official in charge of wheat trading, said.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Wednesday said the wheat variety was developed years ago by biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. It was never put into use because of worldwide opposition to genetically engineered wheat.

Wheat, long known as the staff of life, is the world’s largest traded food commodity and it is used in making breads, pastries, cookies, breakfast cereal and noodles.

Asia imports more than 40 million tonnes (mt) of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade of 140-150mt. The bulk of the region’s supplies come from the US, the world’s biggest exporter, and Australia, the No. 2 supplier.

The USDA said there was no sign that genetically engineered wheat had entered the commercial market, but grain traders warned the discovery could hurt export prospects for US wheat.

“Asian consumers are jittery about genetically modified food,” said Abah Ofon, an analyst at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. “This is adding to concerns that already exist on quality and availability of food wheat globally.”

In 2006, a large part of the US long-grain rice crop was contaminated by an experimental strain from Bayer CropScience, prompting import bans in Europe and Japan and sharply lowering market prices. The company agreed in court in 2011 to pay $750 million to growers as compensation.

Buyers cautious, seek details

A major flour miller in China, which has been stocking US wheat in recent months, said importers will tread carefully.

China has emerged as a key buyer of US wheat this year, taking around 1.5mt in the past two months. Chinese purchases in the year to June 2014 are estimated to rise 21% to 3.5mt, according to the USDA, with most shipments coming from the US, Australia and Canada.

Japan’s Hisadome said the government has asked US authorities to provide more details of their investigation and Japan will stop buying the wheat concerned, at least until a test kit is developed to identify genetically modified produce.

There is no US-approved test kit to identify genetically engineered wheat. The USDA has said it is working on a “rapid test” kit.

The Philippines, which buys about 4mt of wheat a year and relies mainly on US supplies, is waiting for more details from the USDA before acting, an industry official in Manila said.

An agriculture ministry source in South Korea said the government is reviewing the discovery, adding the country thoroughly inspects products from the US as part of safety checks.

“I won’t be surprised if other countries start cancelling or reducing their purchases of US wheat, particularly Asian countries, putting pressure on wheat demand,” said Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

The benchmark Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures eased half a per cent on Thursday after rallying in the previous session.

GM crops cannot be grown legally in the US unless the government approves them after a review to ensure they pose no threat to the environment or to people.

Monsanto entered four strains of glyphosate-resistant wheat for US approval in the 1990s but there was no final decision by regulators because the company decided there was no market.

The St. Louis-based firm downplayed the incident in a statement posted on its website. “While USDA’s results are unexpected, there is considerable reason to believe that the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited,” it said.

Still, importers are not in a position to shun wheat from the US, which accounts for about a fifth of the global supplies, analysts and industry officials said.

Karl Plume in Chicago, Niu Shuping in Beijing, Erik dela Cruz in Manila, Jane Chung in Seoul and Yayat Supriatna in Jakarta contributed to this story.

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