APHIS made its announcement that there had been a confirmation that some volunteer wheat plants on an Oregon farm were genetically engineered (GE) for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) trait.
USDA has highlighted that it has no evidence that the original RR wheat trait has entered commerce. However, Japan and South Korea both suspended US wheat imports; neither country allows the cultivation of GE crops. Testing for biotech events is complex and sophisticated methods are required to precisely identify the event identified by USDA in wheat. Monsanto has supplied USDA and governments of key export markets, including Japan, Korea and the European Union, with a precise event-based method that would mitigate against false positive results.
Monsanto has initiated its own investigation into the situation, testing 31,200 seed samples in Oregon and Washington with all varieties testing clean. The company has stated that the detection of the RR wheat trait in such an isolated situation raises important questions about the circumstance and source of the presence.
Monsanto began closing down the original RR wheat research in ’04. The last trial in Oregon occurred in ’01 and all the seeds were either destroyed or sent to a USDA facility in Colorado. The process for closing out the program was rigorous, well-documented and audited. In the nine years since, there have been no other reports of RR wheat volunteers. Furthermore, internal investigation by Monsanto has confirmed that it did not have any prior test site at the Oregon farm where the material under investigation was reported to have been present. The Oregon grower planted the same seed blend across multiple fields but only noticed volunteer RR wheat in one field and, then, on only about one percent of that field.
Monsanto’s internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as a reasonable explanation for this event. Researchers, both in the public and private sectors, acknowledge that the viability of wheat seed is, on average, only one to two years in the soil. Wheat is predominantly a self-pollinating plant and research highlights that 99% of wheat pollen moves less than 30 feet from its source.
In a conference call with reporters, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Rob Fraley raised the possibility that the stand of GE wheat discovered in the Oregon field may have been the result of the “purposeful mixing of seed.” While Fraley said that the company’s RR seeds may have been planted inadvertently, sabotage remained a distinct possibility.
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