Wheat is ready to harvest on a farm near Forsyth in August.

More than a week after reports that genetically modified wheat unexpectedly turned up at a university research lab in Huntley, foreign buyers are not shying away from Montana grain.

Buyers, particularly those from the crucial Asian Pacific region, continued to buy hard red winter and hard red spring wheat. Grain marketing organizations expected the state’s $1 billion a year wheat economy wouldn’t be interrupted by the discovery announced on Sept. 26. However, no one was certain that sales wouldn’t slump until grain markets reopened this week.

“Really, we haven’t seen anything from foreign markets, it’s been pretty much silent,” said Collin Watters, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee executive vice president.

The Committee is the producer-funded marketer of Montana grain.

U.S. Wheat Associates, the export market development organization for America’s wheat industry, concluded by Thursday in its weekly marketing letter that the discovery in Montana of wheat genetically modified to survive exposure to Roundup herbicide wouldn’t affect grain exports.

“Roundup-ready” wheat has never been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for sale, although through testing, the USDA has concluded the wheat is safe to eat. However, many buyers of U.S. wheat aren’t willing to buy genetically modified grain.

U.S. Wheat went on to say that after a year of increased testing for genetically modified grain in U.S. wheat, with none found, Asian Pacific buyers should stop. The testing started after genetically modified soft white spring wheat was discovered in a 100-acre Oregon farm field where none had ever been intentionally planted.

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The circumstances surrounding the discovery of genetically modified grain at Montana State University’s Southern Ag Research Center in Huntley were different than the Oregon discovery in late April 2013.

The Huntley facility, known as the SARC, was one of two Montana sites for USDA-approved testing of Roundup-Ready wheat from 2000 through 2003. The other Montana site was west of Bozeman. The experimental crops were monitored during the tests and for years afterward to make sure stray GMO wheat seeds didn’t “volunteer” and sprout on their own, according to MSU. In July, SARC researchers spraying a field with Roundup noticed that roughly 100 wheat plants in the field seemed unfazed by the herbicide. SARC contacted USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, which launched an investigation.

There wasn’t much to report one week after the investigation was announced. The APHIS investigation into the Oregon incident continued for 16 months and then didn’t identify the source of the GMO wheat discovered there, only that the grain was genetically modified to resist Roundup and possessed traits not found in any wheat currently approved for sale.

The SARC discovery has APHIS reviewing other genetically engineered wheat field test sites active from 2012 to 2014.

“As we continue our investigation into the detection at the SARC, we are also taking several additional steps to verify that unintended GE wheat is not growing in other locations where field trials are taking place or have recently occurred,” said Ed Curtlett, APHIS spokesman. “APHIS will inspect all wheat field trials planted in the United States in 2014 and follow up with post-harvest inspections to ensure those conducting the field trials adhere to APHIS’ requirements to monitor for, and remove, volunteer plants.”

There have not been genetically modified wheat tests in Montana since 2003. In addition to 2014 sites, APHIS will test 81 field test sites active in 2012 and 2013. Those sites are in Arizona, California, Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota, Hawaii, Nebraska, Texas and Washington.

“APHIS is also assessing other measures — such as the requirements it puts in place for field tests involving GE wheat, as well as the frequency of its inspections of field test sites — to minimize potential future GE wheat incidents,” Curlett said.

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