June 12 (UPI) -- Unapproved genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing wild in Washington state, federal authorities say.
The wheat was engineered to be resistant to Round Up herbicide produced by Monsanto, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was found in an unplanted agricultural field that was "possibly on the site of a former field trial," said Charla Lord, a spokeswoman for Bayer, which recently purchased Monsanto.
The USDA has provided few details about the incident beyond saying that "there is no evidence the [genetically engineered] wheat has entered the food supply."
"We are still gathering information," USDA spokesman Rick Coker said in an email. "We will provide additional information on this event as soon as we can."
No type of genetically engineered wheat is approved for use in the United States -- or anywhere in the world. However, this is the fourth time it has been found growing freely in this country.
In 2013, engineered wheat was discovered in Oregon. The next year, a farmer found it in Montana. And in 2016, it was found in Washington state.
"What you've got are these experimental plots that are supposed to be controlled but are not being," said Jaydee Hanson, the policy director at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. "The plants are discovered when someone comes in and sprays an herbicide and it doesn't kill these renegade weeds."
Monsanto began developing a wheat plant that could withstand its Round Up herbicide in the early 2000s. The company petitioned the USDA for approval to commercially produce the modified wheat in 2002 and then again in 2004, but ultimately withdrew both applications in 2004, before the agency could issue a ruling, Coker said.
That decision was based in large part on other nations' unwillingness to import genetically altered wheat. That resistance was so strong that after the engineered wheat was found in Oregon, several countries stopped importing wheat from the United States.
"A number of farmers in the Northwest and Midwest lost money," Hanson said. Many of those farmers sued Monsanto and were awarded an undisclosed settlement, he said, adding that it's possible this latest incident could "become a problem for exports again."
It is unclear to industry groups if this will happen.
"We cannot speculate or comment about any potential market reactions until we have a chance to discuss the situation in more detail with overseas customers," the National Association of Wheat Growers and the U.S. Wheat Associates said in a joint statement. "Based on what we know today from [the USDA], we are confident that nothing has changed the U.S. wheat supply chain's ability to deliver wheat that matches every customer's specifications."-