By Carey Gillam
June 21 Monsanto officials said Friday that
continued extensive testing of U.S. soft white wheat supplies
shows that the presence of the company's unapproved,
experimental genetically altered wheat in an Oregon wheat field
is highly suspicious and was an isolated incident that could not
have happened through normal farming practices.
Company officials said more investigation is needed to
determine how the genetically engineered wheat, which Monsanto
said it stopped field testing in 2005, was growing in April in
the Oregon farm field.
"What happened in this field... is suspicious," said
Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley in a conference
call with reporters.
Fraley said the evidence indicates someone intentionally
introduced the biotech wheat seed into the Oregon field.
Monsanto said Friday that testing it had conducted, in
addition to testing conducted by Washington State University,
found no sign of contaminated wheat outside that one field. The
sampling represents over 97 percent of Oregon wheat acres,
"The grain is clean," Fraley said. "This situation is
extremely isolated, with all the testing data again concluding
that this is isolated to a single field in Oregon."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 29 that it
was investigating the discovery of genetically engineered wheat
plants developed by Monsanto to tolerate dousings of Roundup
herbicide. The "Roundup Ready" wheat was found on an Oregon farm
in April, several years after Monsanto stopped field testing the
wheat, which was never approved for commercial use.
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 marketplace.
One area of inquiry has been what happened to GMO wheat seed
sent to a government seed storage facility in Colorado when the
field trials ended in 2005. Monsanto officials have said that
some of the experimental wheat was shipped to the Colorado
facility, called the National Center for Genetic Resources
The center uses high-tech methods to keep seeds viable for
decades, much longer than they typically would remain viable.
Officials with the center said this week that they were not
certain if they had received the GMO wheat seed and if so what
might have happened to it.
USDA said it was investigating that issue, but Monsanto said
Friday that all the seed sent to the Colorado storage site was
"We have documentation of what seed was sent to the Colorado
facility and documentation of its subsequent destruction,"
spokesman Thomas Helscher said. "At our direction, the seed was
destroyed (incinerated) as it was old material and we had no
plans for its future use."
Millers, grain handlers, exporters, wheat growers and others
have complained that USDA/APHIS officials are not disclosing
enough information about their findings, and until they do, the
market for western white wheat will remain limited.
On Friday, USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said the investigation
was proceeding and that so far the testing has focused on the
three varieties of soft white wheat seed that the farmer in
Oregon who found the Roundup Ready wheat had planted on his farm
Investigators obtained samples of the same varieties of
wheat seed sold to the farmer and other growers, and obtained
samples of the farmer's wheat harvests, Curlett
said. Investigators have also identified over 250 farmers who
purchased and planted the same seed varieties and conducted
nearly 230 in-person interviews with these farmers who all said
they had not found any glyphosate resistant wheat volunteers on
The government has tested eight samples of seed and four
grain samples and none of the more than 100 tests conducted have
turned up positive for the experimental genetically engineered
trait, according to Curlett.
Curlett said the government tested nine "pools" from each of
the 12 samples for detection of as small a contamination level
as 0.003 percent, or roughly one in about 30,000 kernels.