Washington Grain Grapples with GM Discovery
The announcement that a genetically engineered, glyphosate resistant strain of wheat was found in an Oregon field earlier this month has the Washington wheat industry monitoring the situation closely.
The finding, confirmed by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on May 29, is part of a regulatory agency investigation. Although APHIS has released some information, much is still unknown at this time. Nine investigators are on the ground in Oregon.
The Washington Grain Commission (WGC) and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), along with their national organizations, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), have been following the issue since it was brought to their attention earlier this month.
“We understand many in Washington’s farming and grain trade community were caught off guard by APHIS’ announcement,” said Tom Zwainz, chairman of the WGC. “But we had no intention of yelling fire if there was none. It has taken all this time for APHIS to perform its analysis and officially confirm the presence of the glyphosate trait in the sample.”
The WGC and WAWG learned of the potential find soon after Oregon State University informed the Oregon Department of Agriculture that tissue from a wheat plant provided by a farmer preliminarily tested positive as containing a GM trait. The field, harvested in 2012, was being prepared for a future crop. The farmer applied Roundup®, and an unknown number of volunteer wheat plants didn’t die.
The Washington and Idaho Departments of Agriculture were informed as well as APHIS, a division within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the trait was confirmed as being glyphosate resistant, there is no knowledge of how the seed got there or the extent of the unauthorized event.
Ryan Kregger, president of the WAWG, said he is cautiously optimistic that fallout from the discovery will be minimal. “There’s no indication at this time that the occurrence extends beyond a single field in a single county in Oregon, but when it comes to wheat, we are a Northwest industry. What affects one of us, affects all of us.”
Bearing out that point, Japan postponed a shipment of soft white wheat, but has not acted on hard red spring or hard red winter tenders. Korea has also temporarily postponed tenders for soft white. Reaction elsewhere has been muted and the industry is working to maintain a transparent, positive relationship with overseas customers.
Glen Squires, CEO, said while APHIS is at the very beginning of its investigation, the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) has confirmed that it will continue to issue GM-free certificates for exporters and buyers. These certificates, which several countries require as part of their tenders, facilitate the sale of wheat. They state that no GM wheat is for sale or in commercial production in the U.S.
“While we continue to operate on limited information, we are still able to export wheat and from everything we now know our important customers are not over-reacting as there is no indication glyphosate resistant grain has entered commercial channels. Further, like us, our customers realize U.S. food and agricultural regulatory agencies are the best in the world,” Squires said adding, “We have confidence APHIS will be able to determine how thesituation occurred and its reach as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.”