Aug. 5, 2016, Update: The Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has announced that it has completed screening on 91 samples of wheat imported from the state of Washington.  According to the MFDS announcement, no transgenic wheat was detected.  This conclusion by the MFDS reinforces  the statement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that this was a very isolated incident and there is “no evidence of GE wheat in commerce.”  Of the samples screened by MFDS, 67 came from shipments imported prior to July 29 but held for screening prior to distribution and sale in Korea; 24 samples came from shipments imported since July 29.

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS)  said it has “confirmed the discovery of 22 genetically engineered wheat plants” in a field in the state of Washington. The wheat plants contain a trait, developed by Monsanto, that makes them tolerant to glyphosate herbicide.

Through the fact-finding process, USDA’s technical analysis confirms that these plants contain the MON71700 event. MON71700 was evaluated in a limited number of field trials in the Pacific Northwest from 1998 to 2001, but it was never commercialized.

At USDA’s request, Monsanto has provided technical support to develop an assay to screen for the MON71700 event.  The validated testing method for the event has been handed over to Japan and Korea, and technical experts from both the USDA and Monsanto are working with regulators in those countries to get the tests set up and answer questions they may have.  MON71700 is a sister event of MON71800, the event detected in an isolated incident in an Oregon field in 2013.  As a sister event, MON71700 has the same inserted DNA as MON71800, just in a different genomic location.

Based on the available information about MON 71700 and CP4 EPSPS, which covers tolerance to glyphosate in many transgenic crops, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded it is unlikely that the wheat would present any safety concerns in the very unlikely event that the wheat was present in the food supply as a result of this incident.

Decades of research have demonstrated that transgenic crops are as safe and nutritious as their traditional counterparts.  The CP4 EPSPS protein has been extensively evaluated by regulatory bodies around the world.  These agencies have approved the use of CP4 in a wide range of crops, including corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets and cotton. In 2004, the U.S. FDA completed its safety assessment on MON71800, the lead event in Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant wheat program at that time.

The U.S. wheat supply chain continues to provide safe and high-quality wheat for both domestic and foreign markets, and there is no evidence that glyphosate-tolerant wheat is in the seed supply or grain commerce.  This conclusion is supported by ongoing screening over the past three years of widely planted wheat varieties in the Pacific Northwest by Washington State University and the routine use of glyphosate as an agronomic tool by U.S. wheat growers.

APHIS has stringent controls and oversight in place to ensure that unauthorized transgenic products are tightly regulated and do not enter commercial channels.  USDA has posted a statement here.

Originally published July 29, 2016 by Nick Weber