The company that engineered an herbicide-resistant strain of wheat which was never cleared for commercial use is baffled as to how the genetically modified organism (GMO) came to be growing in an Oregon wheat field. According to New Scientist, Monsanto, which says it abandoned research on the wheat in 2004, claims it has no idea how the wheat got there, but that it is urgently trying to find out.
An Oregon farmer who found the wheat only realized that it was a genetically modified crop when he tried to clear the field where it was growing by using the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. To his amazement, the plants simply refused to die.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fact sheet about the contamination said:
An Oregon farmer noticed some volunteers, or plants that had germinated and developed in a place where they were not intentionally planted, in his wheat field, were resistant to glyphosate and sent the samples to the OSU scientist. She received the samples on April 30, 2013, and conducted tests on the samples. Based on her preliminary tests, the samples she received tested positive for the glyphosate trait and the farmer was informed of the testing results.
In a press release on Friday, Monsanto claimed that as a company, it “remains committed to working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. wheat industry to get to the bottom of the reported detection of Roundup Ready wheat earlier this week in a single field in Oregon.”
“We’re committed to being transparent about our investigation and sharing information as it is assembled,” said Claire Cajacob of Monsanto in the press release. “We’re prepared to provide any technical help that we can to get to the bottom of this.”
“Roundup Ready” wheat, which is immune to the effects of the wide-spectrum herbicide glyphosate — marketed by Monsanto as Roundup — was cleared for human consumption by the FDA in 2004, but Monsanto stopped growing it the same year, claiming at the time that a 25 percent drop in global demand for wheat meant the strain wasn’t as urgently needed. All remaining stocks of Roundup Ready wheat were purportedly destroyed.
The modified wheat was grown in 17 U.S. states, including Oregon, but never at the farm where the resistant stain was found. Monsanto’s statement ruled out physical contamination as the source, saying, “The company’s internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as reasonable explanations behind this reported detection.”
In short, the agri-business colossus sounds as mystified as everyone else as to how a strain of wheat that was supposed to be completely eradicated in 2004 has spontaneously come back to life in an Oregon field.
Now, Korea and Japan have suspended imports of U.S. soft white wheat, which is used for making noodles, until they determine that none of the Monsanto wheat has entered their supply chain. So far, no GMOs have been found among the exported crops.
[image of an ear of wheat via Shutterstock.com]