Genetically Altered Wheat Flagged; Thailand Detects Shipment Not Cleared for Commercial Sales

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Published October 18, 1999

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA) | October 14, 1999 | Hannelore Sudermann, Staff writer

Scientists in Thailand claim they found genetically modified wheat in a recent grain shipment from the Pacific Northwest.

The discovery may jeopardize Northwest wheat exports at a time when a growing number of foreign governments and consumers are rejecting genetically altered products.

"This is not good for the two countries at all," said Prakarn Virakul, minister for agriculture with the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Thai government hasn't said what it plans to do with the suspect shipment. But the country wants to work with U.S. grain marketers to ensure that genetically modified wheat, called transgenic wheat, isn't shipped again, he said.

The news shocked Northwest agricultural interests because transgenic wheat hasn't been approved for commercial sales and is grown only in test plots.

While many U.S. scientists say that transgenic food is safe, critics claim there hasn't been enough testing to determine what health or environmental consequences these new crops could bring.

Local agriculture agencies and scientists are trying to find out how the altered DNA got into the wheat that was sold.

"This test report surprised us as much as it surprised our customer," said Dawn Forsythe, a spokeswoman for U.S. Wheat Associates, a national wheat marketing agency.

The agency knows only that the wheat was grown in the Northwest and shipped from Portland.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn't approved transgenic wheat for commercial sale, a small number of acres of genetically modified grain was planted in Washington, Idaho and Oregon this year.