WASHINGTON, June 5, 2013- Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley told reporters today that the company’s investigation indicates the presence of glysophate-tolerant wheat in Oregon is very likely the result of “accidental or purposeful mixing” of seeds.
“We are certainly not implying the farmer is in on all of this,” Fraley noted, regarding the farmer who found and reported the glysophate-tolerant wheat plants in his field before planting this spring.
“Everything we’ve seen to date suggests this is a very isolated situation,” Fraley emphasized, noting no evidence exists that the trait is present in commercial seed. When specifically asked, he later added that “sabotage is a possibility.”
Since USDA reported the incident of unapproved genetically engineered wheat last week, Monsanto has developed a test to specifically detect CP4, the Roundup Ready gene, in wheat.
Fraley said the company’s event-specific test is the only test that distinguishes between the Roundup Ready gene in wheat and in other crops. “This is the only reliable test,” he said. “We’ve provided it to regulators; we don’t know if anyone besides us is using it now.”
Monsanto has been developing this test and using it on several varieties of wheat in the Pacific Northwest region, Fraley explained. The Oregon farmer who discovered the glysophate-tolerant wheat in one of his fields reported planting two varieties of wheat for his regular crop season: WestBred (WB528) and USDA-WSU (ROD).
“Monsanto did MON71800 CP4 event specific tests which indicated that the foundation seed stock representing the two wheat varieties planted by the grower in Oregon are clean,” the company said today.
“He planted at least two fields with the same seed mix and only found glysophate volunteers in one,” Fraley said. “If the stock were contaminated, we would have expected to see it in all fields planted by the same farmer and, frankly, in more fields over the past decade.”
The company tested 50 additional varieties common to the region, which Fraley said collectively represent 60 percent of all acres of soft white winter wheat seed varieties, and found no detectable presence of CP4.
While noting that USDA has responsibilities in its investigation that may limit sharable data, Phil Miller, Monsanto’s global regulatory affairs lead, said Monsanto requested access to the samples of wheat from the Oregon farm.
Fraley said USDA reported the wheat as containing Monsanto’s CP4 event, “and we presume that is the result.” However, he added that “a lot of confusion” comes from the fact that samples of the Oregon wheat are not yet available to the company. He said access to samples of the plants “would help us identify the exact wheat variety that could be involved.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA and Monsanto have “an ongoing exchange of information.” Without saying whether USDA would release samples of the rogue volunteer wheat to the company, he said “they basically are aware of what we’ve been doing and we, in turn, are apprised of testing they’re doing.”
Vilsack said USDA extended testing to eliminate circumstances of false positives for GE traits.
He called the finding in Oregon “unusual, odd and very rare” during a speech at the National Press Club today. Monsanto and USDA emphasize that the discovery of glysophate-tolerant wheat consisted of a “handful” of plants on less than one percent of an 80-acre field.
“There is no indication that this particular circumstance found its way into the stream of commerce,” Vilsack said. “USDA has conducted numerous tests on adjacent fields and there are numerous tests from trading partners that suggest it’s limited at this time to that particular field.”
He noted the importance of renewing U.S. export markets for wheat. The Japanese government and South Korean wheat buyers halted imports of soft white wheat due to the feared possibility of GE presence.
“Finding out what happened, and making sure our markets get opened as quickly as possible” are USDA’s top priorities, Vilsack said today.
USDA’s investigation includes 15 team members on the ground, focused primarily in Oregon, according to USDA’s APHIS.
“We are conducting a very thorough investigation so we can determine whether or not there’s a problem with our regulatory system that needs to be fixed or there’s some other explanation,” Vilsack said.
“I’m not going to speculate on what could or couldn’t have happened,” he added, regarding the possibility of the wheat being intentionally planted. “We could go down that road all day.”
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