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Discovery Of Genetically Modified Wheat Could Jeopardize Northwest Exports

flickr/jonny boy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Wednesday that an Oregon field is contaminated with a genetically modified strain of wheat. Northwest growers are concerned the finding could hurt this year’s export sales.

About ten years ago Monsanto field tested a wheat variety that was resident to the herbicide Roundup in 16 states. But it was never approved for commercial use.

Now the USDA is investigating why that genetically modified wheat appeared in Oregon this spring.

Bob Zemetra is a wheat breeder with Oregon State University. He says at the end of April, OSU received wheat samples in the mail from an eastern Oregon farmer.

“With a note saying 'these were sprayed with roundup and did not die, do you know what’s going on?'” Zemetra says.

Molecular tests revealed the wheat carried a modified gene that is resistant to Roundup. The OSU scientists notified the USDA, which collected more samples and confirmed their results.

“It’s not supposed to be out there, that’s kind of why this becomes a concern," says Blake Row with the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

Row says there are about 900 thousand acres of wheat growing in Oregon this year. Most of it will be ready to harvest in a month. 90 percent is exported to markets in Asia and Europe. Where customers specify that they want GMO free wheat.

“The clock’s running. So there’s a sense of urgency in the grower community to figure out what we need to do and get it done," Row says.

Row says he doesn’t know yet if the USDA plans to test wheat from other Oregon farms to look for the modified gene.

Michael Firko of the USDA says the GM wheat is safe for humans and animals.

“We’ve reviewed this particular transgenic trait, and although there are no wheat varieties that are approved for unrestricted planting, we have no safety concerns," Firko says.

Monsanto issued a statement saying it can’t confirm the USDA’s report that GM wheat turned up in Oregon until it receives samples and more details.


Copyright 2013 EarthFix