Technology & Science

U.S. investigating rogue GM wheat found in Oregon field

U.S. authorities are still trying to figure out how a genetically-modified wheat strain that was never approved for commercial use ended up in a field in Oregon.

Monsanto abandoned work on strain more than a decade ago

Since the discovery of the genetically engineered wheat, Japan has suspended shipments of white winter wheat from Oregon, a state that exports 90 per cent of its wheat. (Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily/Associated Press)

U.S. authorities are still trying to figure out how a genetically-modified wheat strain that was never approved for commercial use ended up in a field in Oregon.

Michael Flowers, a cereals specialist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, told As It Happens co-host Carol Off that the source of the wheat found in a grain field on an Oregon farm last week is still unknown.

He added that it is unlikely to have escaped from an experimental plot, since the strain was last tested in Oregon in 2001 and the nearest experimental plot was reportedly many miles away.

"An escape that hasn't been noticed for this long period of time, I think, is unlikely," he said. "But certainly, the investigators are looking at all possibilities."

The wheat variety was genetically engineered by the agricultural technology company Monsanto to be resistant to the common pesticide RoundUp. 

The company tested it across the U.S. in the early 2000s, but decided there wasn't enough of a market for the product, and abandoned its commercialization efforts completely by 2005, Flowers said.

The discovery of the GM strain has prompted Japan to suspend shipments of white winter wheat from Oregon, a state that exports 90 per cent of its wheat.

"Everybody's concerned about it," Flower said.

However, he said testing will be needed to uncover the extent of the problem and the cause before any discussion can be had about who is to blame or whether there are enough safeguards to prevent this kind of thing from happening.