Tests find traces of GM crops in U.S. wheat supply
Reuters, 05.30.03, 4:38 PM ET
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - Tests have revealed that traces of
genetically modified grains are repeatedly creeping into U.S. wheat
supplies, even as the debate rages over whether the world's first
biotech wheat variety should be released in North America, grain
industry sources said.
Biotech soybeans and corn, the two most widely grown genetically
modified crops in the world, are the common culprits. Traces of the
GM crops have been found not only in unmilled wheat but also in flour
used to make bread and other foods, sources said.
The findings come at a time when debate over biotech wheat is
reaching a near-fever pitch.
Critics fear that Monsanto Co.'s plans to release a genetically
modified spring wheat in the United States and Canada will cripple
wheat exports and add complications and costs for domestic players.
The Canadian Wheat Board, which controls that country's wheat
exports, pleaded with Monsanto this week to drop its bid for North
American regulatory approval.
Many countries that buy grain from the United States refuse to
purchase bioengineered varieties, saying their consumers fear that
the long-term health and environmental impacts of the GM grains have
not been established.
At Rank Hovis, the largest miller in the United Kingdom and an
importer of U.S. wheat, testing for biotech contamination has
repeatedly found evidence of genetically modified soybeans and corn
particles mixed in with wheat supplies, wheat director Peter Jones
"We routinely find beans and maize (in wheat) and we must accept that
these are genetically modified," said Jones.
U.S. industry sources are reluctant to discuss the matter openly
because of fears of scuttling U.S. wheat sales to countries wary of
genetically modified crops.
But they say the findings of biotech materials in nonbiotech wheat
illustrate the difficulties that lie ahead in trying to segregate
wheat, the most actively traded grain in the world.
"We've already got GM contamination in wheat in small levels from
non-GM sources," said one U.S. milling source. "If we can't keep the
corn and soybeans out of the wheat, how are we going to keep the GM
wheat out of the wheat?"
"The slightest little detection can complicate wheat shipments going
out of this country," said Steven Tanner, director of the U.S. Grain
Inspection Packers Stockyards Administration technical services
"The question comes down to what is reasonable. If you're going to
say zero tolerance you might as well stop world trade," Tanner said.
Millers said cleaning techniques remove most if not all traces of
foreign matter, though some small amounts are making it into flour.
In the United States, some major flour companies have started testing
wheat for customers who do business in other countries where no
genetically modified foods are allowed. Samples have turned up
positive, causing headaches and revisions to contracts, industry
The wheat most likely mixes with foreign materials as it moves
through storage and transportation systems that handle a variety of
grains, experts said..
The issue is not a new one. Four years ago, Thailand detected
genetically modified materials in a shipment of U.S. wheat and
determined that GM corn was to blame. The government then announced
it would ban the import of all GM seeds.
U.S. Wheat Associates said that it is not only U.S. wheat that often
contains small amounts of biotech grains.
In the European Union, which imports about 2 million tonnes of spring
wheat from the United States and Canada annually, many European grain
companies have developed tests to determine the presence of nonwheat
biotech material down to a level of 0.1 percent, according to U.S.
Wheat industry sources said most grain traders -- both sellers and
buyers -- would rather avoid testing wheat. They prefer to rely on
the "letters of assurance" that routinely accompany U.S. and Canadian
wheat sales. The letters certify there are "no transgenic wheat
varieties for sale or in commercial production."
But once regulatory approval is granted, even if Monsanto still has
not released its biotech wheat, those assurances could be lost.
"Europe has already been testing wheat," said U.S. Wheat Associates
vice president Nelson Denlinger. "When you get down to
commercialization you're going to have a major problem if people want