In the late-1990s, agriculture company Monsanto began developing wheat genetically modified to resist the company's Roundup weed killer. Monsanto ended the project in 2004, and to this day, no one is allowed to sell genetically modified wheat in the United States.
But on Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the discovery of Roundup-resistant GM wheat growing in an unplanted field in Washington state — a startling example of the long-term impact GM experiments can have on an ecosystem.
The wheat doesn't have "Product of Monsanto" printed on its stem, but the connection between the newly discovered plants and the controversial company, which Bayer purchased in 2018, is pretty clear.
The USDA has already found GM wheat confirmed to belong to Monsanto growing in the wild three other times, most recently in 2016 in Washington state, and Bayer has already noted its involvement in the new investigation.
"We have been informed by USDA of a possible detection of GM wheat in Washington State, possibly on the site of a former field trial," Bayer Crop Sciences spokeswoman Charla Lord told Reuters. "We are cooperating with USDA to gather more information and facts as the agency reviews the situation."
Thankfully, the USDA wrote in its initial statement that it has found "no evidence that GE wheat has entered the food supply."
Seed of Doubt
If Monsanto had the necessary approvals for its field trials, it's hard to imagine the company will face any penalties for its GM wheat still showing up in the wild.
But the situation is a troubling reminder that whenever humans introduce a genetically modified organism into the environment, they run the risk of irreversibly changing the ecosystem — and the genetically modified mosquitos scientists are creating to end malaria could potentially spread much farther than a GM plant ever could once released into the wild.
READ MORE: Genetically Engineered Wheat Found in Unplanted Washington Field [Bloomberg]