By Carey Gillam
June 28 Monsanto Co's unapproved,
experimental genetically engineered wheat, which is feared to
have potentially contaminated U.S. wheat supplies after it was
found growing in an Oregon field this spring, was kept in a U.S.
government storage facility until at least late 2011, according
to documents obtained by Reuters.
The revelation that the seed for the controversial
genetically engineered wheat was kept viable in a Colorado
storage facility as recently as a year and a half ago comes as
the U.S. government is investigating how the strain of
experimental wheat wound up growing in an Oregon field this
The probe by the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes an
examination of the handling of the GMO wheat seed that Monsanto
directed be sent to the government-controlled National Center
for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado,
beginning in late 2004, according to Peter Bretting, who
oversees the center for the USDA's Agricultural Research
David Dierig, research leader at the National Center for
Genetic Resources Preservation, also said the matter was "under
The National Center uses high-tech methods to extend the
viability of seeds for decades, much longer than their viability
in conventional storage. The facility took in at least 43
physical containers of Monsanto's so-called "Roundup Ready"
wheat in late 2004 and early 2005, the documents show. The
material represented more than 1,000 different unique varieties
or lines, according to the documents that Monsanto provided in a
heavily redacted format.
The documents were made up of correspondence between
Monsanto and the Colorado facility.
Monsanto was shutting down its work with Roundup Ready
wheat, altered to tolerate treatments of Roundup herbicide, when
it set up a contract dated Nov. 2, 2004, for the resources
preservation center to store its wheat seed. Monsanto said the
seed was confirmed incinerated on Jan. 5, 2012.
"At our direction, the seed was destroyed ... as it was old
material and we had no plans for its future use," said Monsanto
spokesman Thomas Helscher, who provided Reuters with the
supporting documents. Monsanto also archived some of the wheat
at its facilities in St. Louis, Missouri.
When asked if USDA had accounted for all the supplies sent
to the Colorado facility, USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said the
government probe is seeking an answer to that question.
A USDA spokesman on Friday said the government does believe
that all the seed it received was incinerated, and that it
cannot account for seed that might have been sent elsewhere.
The Roundup Ready wheat was never approved for commercial
use and was supposed to be tightly controlled. Monsanto has said
it suspects someone covertly obtained its wheat seed and planted
it in the Oregon field to sabotage Monsanto's work with biotech
The government and Monsanto have said there is no indication
the GMO wheat made it into commercial supplies, but the finding
has hit Monsanto and the wheat industry hard.
Monsanto has been named in several lawsuits and over the
last month, exports of U.S. western white wheat have been
curtailed as foreign buyers shun the U.S. supplies and demand
assurances that none of the biotech wheat has contaminated the
Wheat growers want the mystery solved.
"Determining how it happened would certainly make it easier
for us to make sure ... that it doesn't happen again, regardless
of whether it was sabotage or some accident," said Blake Rowe,
chief executive of the Oregon Wheat Commission. "Our customers
would like to know how it happened."