Genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in a field in Washington State, according to a United States Department of Agriculture announcement on Friday (June 7). The unapproved plants are resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s controversial weedkiller Roundup, but there is currently no evidence that they have entered the food supply, the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) says.
“USDA is collaborating with our state, industry and trading partners, and we are committed to providing all our partners with timely and transparent information about our findings,” the statement reads.
There are no approved genetically engineered (GM) wheat varieties, although GM versions of the plant have been identified in isolated incidents in two other US states—Montana and Oregon—and in Alberta, Canada, since 2013.
Responding to the discovery, a spokesperson for Monsanto’s parent organization Bayer suggested that the site where the crops were found could have been part of a trial of GM wheat varieties in the 1990s and 2000s. Until 2004, Monsanto was working to develop varieties that would be resistant to Roundup, but dropped the work amid concern that GM wheat would be rejected by buyers abroad.
“We have been informed by USDA of a possible detection of GM wheat in Washington State, possibly on the site of a former field trial,” Bayer Crop Sciences spokeswoman Charla Lord tells Reuters. “We are cooperating with USDA to gather more information and facts as the agency reviews the situation.”
The US Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers say in a joint statement that they are “confident that nothing has changed the U.S. wheat supply chain’s ability to deliver wheat that matches every customer’s specifications.” They note that “we cannot speculate or comment about any potential market reactions until we learn more from APHIS and have a chance to discuss the situation in more detail with overseas customers.”
Moe Agostino, chief commodity strategist at the agricultural advisor firm Farms.com Risk Management, tells the site that he thinks the market is unlikely to be substantially affected. “This kind of thing could slow down exports but I think it’s just a one-off,” he says. “We’ve got a [World Agricultural Supply and Demands Estimates] report coming tomorrow and I think markets are more concerned with that and how the planting season is going.”
It’s not Bayer’s first controversy over Roundup this year. The company is currently battling multiple lawsuits over whether its weedkiller causes cancer, and lost its third such case last month when a jury in California awarded a couple with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma $2 billion in damages.