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Updated 20 January 2016

Information on Genetically Modified (GM) wheat found in the USA in 2013 and 2014

Summary of events and the US Government regulatory response

In two separate incidents in the USA in 2013 and 2014, GM glyphosate tolerant wheat was found growing outside of regulated trial sites. In May 2013, GM glyphosate tolerant wheat was detected on a farm in Oregon. In July 2014 GM glyphosate tolerant wheat was detected at a University research centre in Montana.

In December 2015, following investigations into the two incidents by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a decision was taken to upgrade the level of regulation necessary for GM wheat field trials in the USA from a notification to a permit system. The change acknowledges the deeper understanding gained during the US investigations about the capacity of wheat to persist in the environment. The permit system allows greater variation in the conditions that can be imposed and a higher level of regulatory oversight, which will allow the US Department of Agriculture to better manage risks.

The investigations and testing undertaken by the USDA concluded that it appears that these detections were isolated incidents and that there is no GM wheat in commerce.

What was the GM wheat detected in the USA?

No GM wheat varieties are approved for sale or commercial production in the USA, in Australia or anywhere else in the world.

Testing confirmed that the GM wheat detected in Oregon and Montana was glyphosate tolerant (‘Roundup Ready’) wheat developed by Monsanto and field trialled in the USA. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assessed this variety of GM wheat in 2004 and determined that this variety is as safe for food and animal feed as non-GM wheat currently on the market.

What occurred in Oregon, USA?

On 29 May 2013, the USA advised that a small number of GM wheat plants had been detected in a field in Oregon. The GM variety was confirmed as the glyphosate herbicide tolerant variety (MON71800) that Monsanto was authorised to field test in the USA from 1998 to 2005. The last field test in Oregon occurred in 2001.

What occurred in Montana, USA?

On 26 September 2014, the US Department of Agriculture reported that GM glyphosate tolerant wheat plants were detected at a University research centre in Montana in July 2014. This research centre had been used to run approved field trials of GM wheat between 2000 and 2003. Testing indicates this is not the source of the GM wheat detected in Oregon. None of the GM wheat from this research centre has been allowed to enter commercial supplies.

The US Department of Agriculture conducted investigations into how each of these incidents occurred. Findings of the Oregon investigation were released in September 2014 and a regulatory response based on both investigations was announced in December 2015.

What is the situation in Australia?

There is no evidence to suggest that GM wheat has been imported into Australia.

Australia has a strong system to regulate GM plants and GM food:
  • the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) regulates work with GM organisms
  • Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for food safety, including GM food
  • the Department of Agriculture is responsible for import and export certification
  • the States and Territories also play an important role.
GM wheat has not been authorised to be grown commercially in Australia by the Gene Technology Regulator and has not been approved for food use by FSANZ.

The OGTR provides strict oversight of GM crop trials in Australia. The approval process is transparent and information about GM crop trials, including locations of the trial sites, is available on the OGTR website.

The Gene Technology Regulator has issued 17 licences for limited and controlled field trials of GM wheat. Nine GM wheat licences are current and one new application under evaluation at this time.

Trials are conducted under strict licence conditions based on comprehensive risk assessment and risk management plans and involving strict containment measures. Each trial is limited in size and duration.

Wheat from these trials is prohibited from entering the human or animal food supplies Sites must be monitored during and after trials and any remaining material after harvest destroyed. There has been no breach of containment for any GM wheat trials in Australia.