Canadian authorities have admitted that a patch of an unapproved, genetically modified strain of wheat has been found in the wild, well outside of old Monsanto test areas, but hope the unfortunate discovery won’t hamper exports.
The crop, of unknown origin, was first discovered on an access road in Alberta last year, after it survived the spraying of the area with herbicide, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said Thursday. After conducting thorough tests on the samples, the watchdog concluded that the crop was “genetically modified and herbicide-tolerant,” and was never approved for commercial use or production within Canada. The agency then narrowed down the producer of the crop to be Monsanto, the agrochemical and biotechnology giant.
Unauthorized GMO wheat plants found growing in Washington state
“CFIA confirmed that the Alberta wheat sample was a match for a Monsanto GM wheat line (MON71200), which was used in multiple confined research field trials in the late 1990s and early 2000s in both Canada and the United States,” the watchdog said in its report.
Despite the fact that genetically modified wheat is not approved for commercial use anywhere in the world due to safety concerns, both the US and Canada have previously conducted field trials on GMO wheat, David Bailey, director of the CFIA’s plant production division, noted.
It remains a mystery how the strain got into the wild more than 62 miles (100 km) away from any known former test fields. The size of the contaminated patch is also unclear. Authorities, however, are adamant that no GM wheat has entered the country's commercial system, and hope that the discovery will not interfere with the export trade of one of the world’s largest wheat exporters.
“The government is going to provide information to allow our trading partners to make informed, science-based decisions to continue trading in Canadian wheat,” said Kathleen Donohue, executive director of market access at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Canada is reasonably worried that some of its customers might reconsider deals, pending further investigation. For instance, back in 2016, Japan and South Korea temporarily suspended imports of some US wheat, after a discovery of GMO wheat developed by Monsanto.
Emphasizing that the strain has not been found anywhere in the country’s commercial fields outside of that one “isolated site,” the CFIA vowed to monitor the area of discovery for the next three years. The discovered GM crop has, meanwhile, been destroyed, with Health Canada reassuring the public that the “finding does not pose a food safety risk.”
Genetically modified wheat was found growing in a Washington state field, according to agricultural officials. Regulatory agencies haven’t approved GMO wheat for production in the US, and the discovery could affect wheat sales abroad.
Federal authorities said on Friday that a farmer had discovered 22 herbicide-resistant wheat plants growing in an unplanted field, as first reported by the Associated Press.
The GMO wheat was developed to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which was created by the seed giant Monsanto. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it is holding and testing the farmer’s entire wheat harvest, but so far has not found any more GMOs.
The agency added there has been “no evidence of GE wheat in commerce."
Genetically modified wheat is banned for sale or production in the US, and it is not clear how the genetically engineered wheat ended up in Washington.
Monsanto said in a statement that the discovered wheat had been used in limited field trials in the Pacific Northwest from 1998 to 2001, but was never commercialized, noting that its DNA matched strains found in Oregon three years ago.
The farmer’s discovery could impact US wheat trade overseas, where many countries are concerned about the possible safety risks associated with genetically engineered food, with some imposing outright bans on it.
On Friday, South Korea suspended customs clearance for some genetically altered wheat from the United States due to safety concerns, while announcing that the distribution and sale of US wheat will also be halted, according to the Yonhap News Agency
The unapproved genetically modified wheat discovered in Oregon in the spring of 2013 led to worldwide testing of shipments arriving in the European Union and South Korea. China and the Philippines said they would monitor the situation at the time, while Japan stopped importing completely.
The USDA, which closed its investigation after two years, was never able to say how the wheat got there.
In 2014, genetically modified wheat plants were found at a university research center in Montana, where it had been legally tested by Monsanto in the early 2000s.
Asia imports more than 40 million metric tons of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade, with the bulk of the region’s supply coming from the US.
The USDA has validated a test for Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant wheat available to trading partners and beefed up oversight on engineered field trials, which now require developers to apply for a permit if they involve GMO wheat, starting this year.
The US government has approved genetically engineered crops such as corn and soybeans designated for livestock, and approved their conversion into cornstarch, soybean oil, and high fructose corn syrup, which are used in many popular processed foods.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a genetically engineered salmon that will grow faster than a natural one, but it is not yet available for consumption.