Most Biofortified Blog readers will have heard by now that glyphosate tolerant genetically engineered wheat has been found growing in a field in Oregon. There’s a lot of interesting details to consider, but for now we’ll start with a simple list of links to help you find reliable information as this story develops.
First, let’s look at some general information about regulation of agricultural biotechnology in the US. There are three agencies that cover different aspects:
- FDA covers aspects that involve human or animal safety. FDA’s Role in Regulating Safety of GE Foods.
- EPA covers plant incorporated protectants (PIPs for short, which refers to any compound produced in plants that may act as a pesticide, such as Bt). EPA’s Regulation of Biotechnology for Use in Pest Management.
- USDA covers aspects that involve agriculture (including consideration of natural resources), specifically plant health. Within USDA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for regulation of biotechnology, including shipping and field testing in their Permits, Notifications, and Petitions processes. APHIS’ Role in Biotechnology.
- The work of these three agencies is outlined in the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. Summary of the Coordinated Framework.
For information in the case of glyphosate tolerant wheat found in Oregon, let’s go right to the source:
How have the three agencies (FDA, EPA, USDA) evaluated glyphosate tolerant wheat?
- The FDA reviewed glyphosate tolerant wheat back in 2004 and determined it had no food safety risk: MON 71800 (this is the only GE wheat that has been evaluated). They’ve evaluated a total of 23 glyphosate tolerant crops and found those to be safe as well (7 corn, 4 soybean, 4 canola, 3 cotton, 2 sugar beet, 1 wheat, 1 alfalfa, and 1 creeping bentgrass). Learn more about Submissions on Bioengineered New Plant Varieties and search the list of Completed Consultations on Bioengineered Foods.
- The EPA did not conduct a review, because the glyphosate tolerance trait does not include a plant incorporated protectant. However, they have evaluated glyphosate and found it to be safe when used within guidelines. View the Chemical Search page for Glyphosate.
- APHIS approved multiple field tests of glyphosate tolerant wheat. Look up field trials in the VA Tech database for USDA Field Tests of GM Crops. There is also a database for Crops No Longer Regulated By USDA (Petitions for De-Regulation). A petition was submitted by Monsanto for glyphosate tolerant wheat, but it was withdrawn: 04-068-01p.
Here are some responses from stakeholders:
- National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates: NAWG/USW Statement in Response to APHIS Announcement
- Monsanto: Monsanto’s first Statement on USDA GM Wheat Report, followed by their GM Wheat information page, which will be updated periodically.
There have been a lot of news articles about the glyphosate tolerant wheat, with varying amounts of useful information. Here are just a few:
- AgriPulse: Unapproved GE wheat found in Oregon field
- NPR: GMO Wheat Found In Oregon Field. How Did It Get There?
- The New York Times: Modified Wheat Is Discovered in Oregon
So far, the announcement has had some effects on trade. Japan and a few other countries have suspended imports of wheat, despite there being no safety concern. The United States exports approximately half of its wheat, and is the biggest supplier of this commodity in the international market.
- Washington Post: Japan suspends wheat imports from Pacific Northwest after modified wheat discovered in Oregon
- The Guardian: Asia curbs US imports of wheat after genetically modified sample found
- Reuters: US genetically modified wheat stokes fears, Japan cancels tender
There is not a lot of information in the scientific literature on glyphosate tolerant wheat. Here are a few articles that readers may find interesting.
- The composition of grain and forage from glyphosate tolerant wheat MON 71800 is equivalent to that of conventional wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) published in 2004 by Monsanto researchers.
- A comparative risk assessment of genetically engineered, mutagenic, and conventional wheat production systems published in 2005 by independent researchers. This study found that both transgenic herbicide tolerant wheat and mutagenized herbicide tolerant wheat have reduced impact on the environment and human health compared to the herbicides typically used on wheat at the time.
- Glyphosate inhibits rust diseases in glyphosate-resistant wheat and soybean published in 2005 by Monsanto researchers.
- Influence of glyphosate, crop volunteer and root pathogens on glyphosate-resistant wheat under controlled environmental conditions published in 2009 by independent researchers. This study found that glyphosate tolerant wheat was “not inherently more susceptible to root pathogens than [glyphosate susceptible barieties], and application of glyphosate did not increase root disease”. However, to avoid synergistic effects of glyphosate with soil pathogens, glyphosate should be applied 2-3 weeks before planting wheat to remove volunteer crops.
As the story develops, I will be covering it in more depth, and I will update this article with more information as it comes out.