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Monsanto GMO Wheat Found in Montana as Oregon Probe Ends

Published on Sep 28 2014 8:33 PM in Supply Chain

Monsanto GMO Wheat Found in Montana as Oregon Probe Ends

Experimental wheat engineered by Monsanto Co. was found on a Montana research field years after testing concluded, reopening compliance issues for the world’s largest seed company.

The genetically modified wheat discovered in July at a Montana State University test plot near Huntley was engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement. The Montana site hasn’t hosted wheat trials since 2003, the USDA said.

The discovery comes as investigators closed a probe into a similar incident last year in Oregon that led some countries to postpone US wheat imports. The latest case shouldn’t affect trade since the rogue wheat was found on a non-commercial farm and the USDA found none in commerce.

“We’ve now opened an investigation into this regulatory compliance issue,” Bernadette Juarez, investigations director for the USDA’s Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, said this week on a conference call with reporters. “We remain confident that the wheat exports will continue without disruption.”

‘Best in Class’

The USDA said it was unable to find the source of the Oregon wheat, which showed up eight years after St. Louis-based Monsanto temporarily ended field tests of biotech varieties. The agency published about 13,000 pages of investigation documents on the web this week. “While we believe our compliance program is best in class, we continuously review our processes and procedures to improve them, including site selection, field trial isolation, and verification and auditing of field trial locations,” Philip Miller, Monsanto’s head of regulatory affairs, said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

The Oregon wheat, found last year growing on about 1 per cent of a farmer’s 125-acre (51-hectare) field that was never a testing site, led Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to postpone US white-wheat imports. Sales were reopened after additional investigations showed no contamination of US supplies.

“My program undertook one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations in the history of our organization,” Juarez said. “Ultimately we were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened.”

Potential Contamination

Monsanto faced several lawsuits over the market impact of potential contamination. The Montana incident, which occurred in an area of one to three acres, should not disrupt trade, Juarez said. The Food and Drug Administration in 2004 determined that Monsanto’s wheat, known as Roundup Ready because it can tolerate Roundup herbicide, is safe for food and animal feed. “There are no safety issues with this wheat,” Juarez said.

Monsanto resumed trials of engineered wheat in 2011. The USDA said it’s beefing up inspections of field trials of biotech wheat, which are taking place this year in nine states and Puerto Rico, and will monitor fields in nine states where the plant was grown in 2012 and 2013.

The Montana variety was genetically different from the Oregon type, making a connection between the two unlikely. In Oregon, the agency said that after more than 291 interviews with farmers, grain handlers and researchers, it wasn’t able to conclude how the wheat got in the field. The incident highlighted tensions over genetically modified crops between agribusinesses that support biotechnology and advocates who question the products’ safety, with Oregon as a key battleground.

A ballot initiative in November that would require labelling of genetically modified foods in the state is winning 77 per cent support in early polls. In May, two rural counties in southern Oregon passed ballot measures banning most genetically modified crops.

Bloomberg News, edited by ESM

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