A few weeks later, Oregon State wheat scientists discovered that the wheat was genetically modified. They contacted the USDA, which ran more tests and confirmed their discovery.
On Friday, a group of Oregon legislators urged Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to direct the state attorney general to pursue compensation for money lost by Oregon wheat farmers because of the discovery.
"It's not an easy thing to rebuild trust in the marketplace," said Oregon state Rep. Brian Clem. "You can't just flip a switch."
Clem said that, if the USDA fails to find a party responsible for the emergence of the modified wheat, Monsanto Co. should be held financially responsible because the company developed the wheat, a soft white winter variety.
Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already modified, or genetically altered to include certain traits, often resistance to herbicides or pesticides. But the country's wheat crop is not, as many wheat farmers have shown reluctance to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly. Much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed.
The USDA has said the wheat would be safe to eat if consumed. But American consumers, like many consumers in Europe and Asia, have shown an increasing interest in avoiding genetically modified foods.
There has been little evidence to show that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but several state legislatures are considering bills that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating.
The Agriculture Department said that during a seven-year period, it authorized more than 100 field tests with the same herbicide-resistant wheat variety. Tests were conducted in in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.