Genetically engineered wheat plants modified to be resistant to Roundup have been discovered in an undisclosed agricultural field in Washington.

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this month, multiple plants were discovered in an unplanted field in the state, but there is no evidence that genetically modified wheat has entered the food supply.

While it is far from the first time the plant, known as Roundup Ready Wheat, has been found growing wild in the Pacific Northwest, the discovery is still surprising.

WSU Associate Professor Arron Carter, who leads the university’s winter wheat breeding and genetics program, said not only has it been more than a decade since the last field trial was approved by the USDA, but the crop was never approved for commercial production.

Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, which engineered the crop and herbicide, withdrew its application to deregulate it in mid-2003 amid concerns that it would be rejected by international importers.

“There is no commercially available, genetically modified wheat — in this case, Roundup-resistant wheat — so there’s a little question just about where exactly did it come from,” Carter said. “There’s no commercially available, genetically modified wheat in the globe as far as I know — I mean, it’s not just a U.S. thing, I don’t think there’s any in existence.”

Wheat seeds are resilient and can remain viable for as long as five years in the dirt; however, Roundup Ready Wheat has repeatedly been found growing in the wild, despite the fact the last field trial for the crop in the U.S. was approved in 2005.

In 2013 and ’14, the plant was found growing in Oregon and Montana, and as recently as 2016, a farmer discovered 22 of the plants in an unplanted field.

European and Asian markets have shown a wary stance toward regions where Roundup Ready Wheat has surfaced — last year, Japan’s farm ministry suspended all imports of Canadian wheat for more than a month when the plant was discovered growing in Alberta.

In 2016, the USDA tightened regulatory practices surrounding field trials of genetically modified wheat. In its release, the agency said it is working with state, industry and trade partners to investigate the incident and possible origins of the plants.

Bayer Crop and Soil Science Spokeswoman Charla Lord told Reuters these latest plants may have been found on a site that may once have been used in field trials of Roundup Ready Wheat.

“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,” Lord said. “We are cooperating with USDA to gather more information and facts as the agency reviews the situation.”


Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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