Monsanto testing new GM wheat after 8-year freeze (Update)

Jun 05, 2013 by Veronique Dupont
Wheat ready for harvest is seen on September 29, 2010 near Tioga, North Dakota. US agriculture giant Monsanto, in the spotlight over the discovery of unauthorized genetically modified wheat growing in Oregon, said Wednesday it has a new GM wheat strain under development.

US agriculture giant Monsanto, in the spotlight over unauthorized genetically modified wheat, said Wednesday it has a new GM strain under development after an eight-year freeze.

The company is developing a new form of wheat impervious to its Roundup herbicide in a bid to improve yield, Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley said in a conference call with reporters.

Claire Cajacob, head of Monsanto's wheat research, said the company was testing a genetically modified, or genetically engineered, spring wheat in North Dakota, adding that field tests started in 2011.

Genetically modified wheat is not currently authorized to be grown commercially anywhere in the world.

The latest announcement comes a week after the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that GM wheat resistant to Roundup had been found in a farmer's field in the northwestern US state of Oregon.

Neither US authorities nor Monsanto have explained how the strain ended up there, but Monsanto said it has not excluded any possible causes, including an accident or some kind of sabotage.

Monsanto ended Oregon field tests in 2001 and stopped testing its original Roundup Ready wheat strain nationwide in 2005 amid market concerns about the acceptance of GM products.

But it pushed back into the field in 2009, resuming work on wheat with the purchase of WestBred, a biotech wheat developer.

Monsanto's original Roundup Ready GM wheat strain, though approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, was not authorized for commercial use at the time Monsanto ended the tests.

And Fraley said all first-generation GM seeds tested until 2005 were either destroyed or sent to a USDA facility in Colorado for storage.

He pointed the finger at "the accidental or purposeful mixing" of the Roundup Ready wheat in the farmer's wheat field.

Bill Freese, of the anti-GMO Center for Food Safety, refuted Monsanto's claims of possible sabotage.

"I don't see any evidence at all that it is sabotage," he told AFP, accusing Monsanto of trying to evade responsibility.

Freese said cross-pollination may have occurred during Monsanto's field testing in at least 17 states from 1998 to 2005 and that the strain found in Oregon may have come from the old test crops.

Monsanto officials have insisted that wheat seeds cannot survive in a difficult climate like Oregon for more than two years and that wheat pollen cannot travel more than 30 feet (nine meters) from its source.

But Freese said cross-pollination can occur across a distance of as much as 1.7 miles (2.75 kilometers) "under the right conditions."

"Seeds are left in the ground. There is no way you can capture all of the seeds," he added.

The seeds can also sprout and mix in with conventional ones, and GM seeds can also fall out of trucks, he said.

Freese's group is calling for a halt to ongoing tests on GM wheat until the Oregon case is resolved, noting that the North Dakota tests are spread across a very large area, which he says increases the risk of cross-pollination.

A Monsanto spokesman said it would take at least 10 years to commercialize a new GM wheat strain.

The GM wheat discovery rattled export markets sensitive to genetically modified organisms, and Japan suspended imports of some US wheat, as did South Korean millers.

In Europe, officials said they would check US imports for signs of the GM wheat.

Explore further: Team advances genome editing technique

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

EU recommends testing of US wheat after GM find

May 31, 2013

The European Union is urging its 27 member states to test certain wheat shipments from the United States after unauthorized genetically modified grains were found on a U.S. farm, officials said Friday.

US probes genetically modified wheat discovery

May 31, 2013

The US Department of Agriculture is investigating the discovery of genetically engineered wheat in an Oregon field, as outcry mounted Friday among consumer groups and Japan suspended some US imports.

EU to check US wheat for GM contamination

May 30, 2013

The European Commission said Thursday it has asked EU member states to check imports of wheat from the United States which may be tainted with a genetically modified strain made by US agrochemicals giant ...

High court to hear farmer, Monsanto seed dispute

Oct 05, 2012

(AP)—The Supreme Court is agreeing to hear a dispute between a soybean farmer and Monsanto Co. over the company's efforts to limit farmer's use of its patented, genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds.

Recommended for you

Team advances genome editing technique

Oct 21, 2014

Customized genome editing – the ability to edit desired DNA sequences to add, delete, activate or suppress specific genes – has major potential for application in medicine, biotechnology, food and agriculture.

Studies steadily advance cellulosic ethanol prospects

Oct 20, 2014

At the Agricultural Research Service's Bioenergy Research Unit in Peoria, Illinois, field work and bench investigations keep ARS scientists on the scientific front lines of converting biomass into cellulosic ...

User comments : 0