The European Commission has asked EU countries to start running tests on imported wheat after US authorities found a genetically modified strain of wheat from Monsanto growing in Oregon.
No GM varieties of wheat are approved for sale or commercial production anywhere in the world.
The discovery has sparked fears GM wheat could make it into the food chain, with South Korea and Japan suspending US wheat imports as a precaution.
The EC said it had asked US authorities for more information on whether wheat exports to the EU could be affected by the discovery. “The Commission is following carefully the presence of this non-authorised GM wheat in Oregon in order to ensure that European consumers are protected from any unauthorised GM presence and make sure that the EU zero tolerance for such GM events is implemented,” it said.
Alerts had been sent to all EU countries, and the EC had recommended countries test consignments of soft white wheat that had been imported to ensure they did not enter the food chain, the EC added.
It also said it had also contacted Monsanto and requested “a detection method and suitable reference material in order to make it available to member states as soon as possible so as to allow controls to be carried out”.
In a statement on its website, Monsanto said it was working closely with US authorities and stressed the gene found in Roundup Ready wheat had a “long history of safe use” and was widely used in maize, soy and other crops around the world.
The EU imports about one million tonnes of wheat a year from the US, most of which goes to Spain. In 2011/12, the UK imported 70,594 tonnes of US wheat.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency said US authorities had stressed the incident was not a food or feed safety issue, adding “there is no information to suggest that this GM wheat has found its way into commerce or export shipments”.
“The FSA is monitoring developments, and the situation is due to be discussed by EU member states at a meeting in Brussels on 10 June.”