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Monsanto Says Oregon’s GMO Wheat is Suspicious

Monsanto Says Oregon’s GMO Wheat is Suspicious

Monsanto officials discovered unapproved, experimental GMO wheat in one of their Oregon wheat fields on June 21. “What happened in this field is suspicious [and] this situation is extremely isolated,” Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said via a conference call.

Monsanto, the world’s largest sustainable agriculture company, was one of the first companies to experiment with altered crops. However, these findings seem to be suspicious due to the fact that Monsanto was unaware of this GMO wheat’s presence in these fields.

These officials said they would hold more investigations to determine how this genetically altered wheat started growing in the field. So far, during Friday’s testing, Monsanto found no sign of contaminated wheat in over 97 percent of the rest of Oregon’s wheat fields, which leads the Monsanto officials to believe this incident was caused by sabotage.

One incident in June that sparked the USDA’s interest in Monsanto’s GMO crops was the destruction of two plots of land in southern Oregon where genetically modified beets were planted, and the FBI declared it a case of “economic sabotage”.

However, this is not the first incident Monsanto has been involved with regarding genetically engineered wheat. In 2005, officials sent some experimental wheat to a storage facility in Colorado, where they use methods to keep the wheat seeds in tact for much longer than normal. While the U.S Department of Agriculture is investigating this tampering issue, Monsanto stated that all the seeds they sent to the Colorado storage center have since been destroyed.

The USDA announced in late May that they were investigating Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat plants because it was said to have large amounts of herbicide infesting these crops. Since then, during the month of June, US white wheat has cut down the number of overseas exports to prevent future contamination in markets outside the U.S.

If Monsanto is discovered to have sabotaged their own Oregon wheat fields, the stakes are potentially very high for the world’s biggest seed production company, with farmers already filing lawsuits citing damages from Monsanto due to lower wheat prices.


US Department of Agriculture probes Oregon Monsanto GM wheat mystery

The scientist who first discovered the renegade grain – by dipping a plastic strip into a tube of pulped plant, in order to check its genetics – believes the GM wheat could have entered America's food supply undetected years ago, and could still be in circulation.

"There's a lot of potential for how it could have got into the supply," said Carol Mallory-Smith, a professor of weed sciences at Oregon State University. "It could have already been processed. It could have gone for animal feed somewhere or it could have gone for something else. It could have gone for storage."

The Department of Agriculture, which is conducting a secretive investigation into the renegade GM wheat outbreak, maintains the GM wheat remained confined to a single 125-acre field on a single farm in eastern Oregon. Officials said there was no evidence the contaminated wheat was in the marketplace.

Monsanto, which manufactured the altered gene and conducted field trials of the GM wheat several years ago, strongly suggested in a conference call with reporters on Friday that the company was the victim of sabotage of anti-GM campaigners. Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer, said:

It's fair to say there are folks who don't like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to make problems.

The real story is unlikely to emerge – if at all – until the publication of the final report by 18 Department of Agriculture investigators who are now scouring grain elevators, farmers' fields and university research stations in eastern Oregon, hunting for a few grains of suspicious wheat.

The stakes are high for America's wheat exports, with Japan and South Korea cancelling shipments for Monsanto, which faces lawsuits from farmers for falling wheat prices and a consumer backlash against GM products and for the US government, which must shore up confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply.

The crisis for wheat farmers began in late April, with a phone call from a crop consultant seeking the advice of researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The consultant had sprayed Roundup, a weed killer also manufactured by Monsanto, on some fallow land. Ordinarily, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, would be expected to clean out the entire 125-acre field. This time, however, some plants survived.

The consultant, fearing he had come across a "superweed", got in touch with the university and sent some plants in for testing. A clump of plants, carefully wrapped in plastic to keep them green, arrived by Fed-Ex on 30 April. Scientists separated 24 samples and tested them for the presence of Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene, CP4, which was developed to be resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer.

"They all came up positive," she said. So did a second battery of tests by another lab at the university and independent testing on a different set of wheat plants collected by researchers from the Department of Agriculture. The scientists were still slightly disbelieving, however. The only chance for contamination by the GM wheat, it was thought, was from field trials Monsanto conducted in the late 1990s until 2005.

The wheat was grown in more than 100 test plots in 16 states over several years, but the company wound down the last of the trials in 2005, because it saw little market potential. Unlike the other big crops – corn, soybeans, cotton and canola – American farmers have never raised GM wheat on a commercial basis. The US exports much of its wheat to Asia and Europe, who do not want GM products. The Oregon field trials stopped in 2001.

"Our customers have zero-tolerance for GM wheat," said Wally Powell, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

Monsanto is currently testing a next generation of GM wheat in North Dakota and Hawaii. The company insists the seeds from those earlier trials were shipped backed to its labs in Missouri or destroyed in the field and driven deep into the earth with a backhoe.

"Most of the seed was destroyed in the field," said Jeff Koscelny, who heads Monsanto's wheat sales team. "It never left the site, and it was buried. To us, it's not logical there were any seeds out there."

Monsanto has faced a backlash over GM products. Photograph: Nigel Treblin/AFP/Getty Images

While Monsanto's chief technology officer suggested eco-activists were to blame, Mallory-Smith said deliberate contamination was the least likely scenario:

The sabotage conspiracy theory is even harder for me to explain or think as logical because it would mean that someone had that seed and was holding that seed for 10 or 12 years and happened to put it on the right field to have it found, and identified. I don't think that makes a lot of sense.

She was also sceptical of Monsanto's claims to have gathered up or destroyed every last seed from its earlier GM wheat trials. In recent years, as American farmers rely increasingly on GM crops, there have been a spate of such escapes, including rice, corn, soybean, and tomato. Oregon is still trying to contain a 2006 escape of GM bentgrass, used on golf courses, which has migrated 13 miles from where it was originally planted.

"Once we put a trait or a gene into the environment we can not expect that we are going to be able to retract or bring back that gene and find every last gene that we put out there," said Mallory-Smith. Tracing the course of an escape so long after Monsanto's field trials will be even more difficult, she said. "It's like finding a needle in a hay stack," she said.

One morning in late June, farmers from wheat-growing areas in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state drove their pick-up trucks to the station, to learn about the latest advances in farm technology – including toy-sized drones – and to catch up on the latest on the GM wheat escape. Some of the farmers were relatively relaxed – those whose land sits relatively high up and don't expect to harvest their crop until August.

Wheat prices reached historic highs before the GM discovery. If there is no further evidence of contamination, they figure they can ride out the crisis, store their wheat, and wait until Japan and South Korea place orders again. But there is also an undercurrent of suspicion and anger at the unidentified farmer who reported finding GM wheat on his land – consequently putting all of their crops in jeopardy.

"It's a mystery to me how they even found that GM wheat," said Herb Marsh, 80, who has been farming in eastern Oregon his entire life. "It's hard for me to swallow that he would go, and actually get it tested.


A Biscuit In The Sun

Everybody loves ‘Cyber Woman With Corn’

As horrifying as GMOs in the food supply are, this chilling discovery is not a business vs. ‘the hippies’ issue. If US wheat is found to contain GMOs current customers could turn their back on US suppliers in droves:

…the mere presence of the genetically modified plant could cause some countries to turn away exports of American wheat, especially if any traces of the unapproved grain were found in shipments. About $8.1 billion in American wheat was exported in 2012, representing nearly half the total $17.9 billion crop, according to U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes American wheat abroad. About 90 percent of Oregon’s wheat crop is exported.

This is a problem even Monsanto recognizes. GMO corn & soybeans are consumed in the main by livestock. Wheat is ‘people-food,’ and people have thusfar been uncomfortable with eating GMO wheat.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved in any country. Indeed, one reason Monsanto dropped its development of genetically modified wheat in 2004 was concern from American farmers that it would endanger wheat exports.

That means the rest of the world –everywhere that doesn’t have a private company serially mishandling GMOs in natural and farm ecosystems– will gladly step in to fill the newly-vacated hole in the ranks of world wheat exporters. Pretty soon it’s not just a ‘farm problem’ anymore, it’s an economic problem and a prestige problem that can spread to all US agricultural exports. Read the rest here, then consider making yourself heard in the current national debates over GMO crops in general and food labeling in particular.


Rogue Monsanto Wheat Sprouts in Oregon

Amber waves of gain? Not so much, for Monsanto. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4898802278/in/photolist-8sTDff-4khV4D-cYcZhw-i3mYq-6kXUgX-ak9pYH-894cjD-6vTcvK-bP4XH6-6etsex-7GeJ1b-abgWgm-34s7f-2ecYR-2ecYJ-2iM2R-3xuDe-VKDr-3wskt-cLGWp3-41V5cc-27o3UL-7yZSa-cCWpEo-abe5PT-86Pzyy-com1wq-7AM3th-4hCw5Z-a4zjtd-a7SsPt-cKgqLQ-9dT1Lb-4ZXoYU-6e3EZb-6LC6sS-6LCr9S-6LxZBr-7DY1tY-a3ZmXN-27TkQ3-9smZ7U-6HoVQ2-6HoVQa-7AXtuR-cmz5a5-4f5zgh-EKeag-85ay1Z-36M9e-4bRm3i">Charles Knowles</a>/Flickr

One of the four major US crops&mdashcorn, soybeans, hay (alfalfa), and wheat&mdashis not like the others.

For one, wheat is mainly consumed directly by people, while the others are mostly used as animal feed. Its status as people food&mdashthe stuff of bread, the staff of life&mdashprobably explains why wheat is different from the other three in another way: It’s also the only one that genetically modified Monsanto seed giant hasn’t turned into a cash cow. The company has made massive profits churning out corn, soy, and (most recently) alfalfa seeds genetically altered to withstand doses of its own herbicide, Roundup. But the company has never commercialized a GM wheat variety&mdashand stopped trying back in 2004, largely because of consumer pushback against directly consuming a GM crop. And thank goodness, too, because Roundup Ready technology is now failing, giving rise to a plague of herbicide resistant weeds and a gusher of toxic herbicides.

Wheat’s non-GMO status is why the Internet went berserk when the US Department of Agriculture revealed Wednesday that Roundup Ready wheat had sprouted up on a farm in Oregon. According to the USDA, a farmer discovered the plants growing in a place they shouldn’t have been and tried unsuccessfully to kill them with Roundup. Oops. USDA testing confirmed that the rogue wheat was the same experimental Roundup Ready variety that Monsanto had last been approved to test in Oregon in 2001.

The revelation had immediate trade implications. About half the overall US wheat crop gets exported&mdashand Oregon’s wheat farmers export 90 percent of their output. Many countries accept US-grown GM corn and soy for animal feed. But as the USDA noted, no country on Earth has approved the sale of GM wheat. And if Roundup Ready wheat is growing on one farm, our trading partners might legitimately ask, what guarantee is there that it’s not growing on others? Already, Japan has responded by suspending imports of US wheat, Bloomberg reports.

Maximizing exports has always been a main priority of the Obama Administration’s ag policy, and, the USDA is scrambling to investigate the extent to which Roundup Ready wheat has entered the food supply, no doubt hoping to stave off a full-on trade crisis. “We are taking this very seriously,” a USDA official told Bloomberg. “We have a very active investigation going on in several states in the western US.”

Meanwhile, the question of how those GM seeds found their way onto that Oregon farm&mdashmore than a decade after the state’s last GM wheat trials&mdashlooms. Wheat can transfer genes from one field to another pretty easily through cross-pollination. As Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist of Pesticide Action Network of North America, put it in a statement, “once released into the environment, the GE genie does not willingly go back into the bottle.” I’ll be eagerly awaiting updates as the USDA continues its investigations.


Monsanto, wheat farmers reach settlement in Oregon GMO cases

ST. LOUIS — Monsanto Company has entered into a settlement agreement with soft white wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest that resolves a number of lawsuits related to the May 2013 discovery of genetically modified wheat on a farm in eastern Oregon.

The discovery triggered subsequent temporary limits on certain exports of soft white wheat.

Settlement fund

Under the settlement and without any admission of liability, Monsanto has agreed to pay $250,000 to wheat growers’ associations, including $100,000 to the National Wheat Foundation, and $50,000 each to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Oregon Wheat Growers’ League, and the Idaho Grain Producers’ Association.

Monsanto will also pay $2.125 million into a settlement fund, which will be designated to pay farmers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho who sold soft white wheat between May 30, 2013, and November 30, 2013.

“Rather than paying the costs of protracted litigation, this agreement puts that money to work in research and development efforts for the wheat industry, while providing a negotiated level of compensation for farmers,” said Kyle McClain, Monsanto chief litigation counsel.

As part of the resolution of these claims, Monsanto will also reimburse plaintiffs’ counsel for a portion of their out-of-pocket costs and fees associated with this litigation.

This settlement will not resolve claims that remain pending by wheat growers who grew a type of wheat other than soft white wheat.

Isolated incident

After its investigation of the detection of genetically engineered wheat growing in a single field on a farm in Oregon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concluded the presence of the genetically engineered wheat was an isolated incident.

An investigation is ongoing into a regulatory compliance issue involving GE wheat found growing at a research facility that was the previous site of authorized field trials in Montana.

Genetically engineered wheat was field-tested under APHIS’ regulatory approval at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana, between 2000 and 2003.

Genetic testing shows that the GE wheat at this research facility location is significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.

APHIS has not deregulated any genetically engineered wheat varieties to date, and thus, there are no GE wheat varieties for sale or in commercial production in the United States.


Monsanto points to sabotage at GMO-contaminated wheat field

"What happened in this field. is suspicious," said Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley on Friday, reporting on the ongoing investigation into the scandal.

In late May, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the discovery of bioengineered wheat, which had been made resistant to Roundup, a Monsanto-sold pesticide. The plant was developed by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005, but was never approved and made into a commercial product.

The company has thus far failed to determine how the crop entered the environment, and insisted that all genetically modified seeds were incinerated after testing.

The fact that the ‘Roundup Reade’ wheat was found growing at only one spot of the 80-acre farm instead of being spread across it indicates that contamination of seed supplies is unlikely, Fraley argued. The crop was apparently planted there separately, he said, adding that the farmer was “a victim” in the case.

He added that investigations conducted by the company, the USDA, and Washington State University found no signs of contamination in other Oregon fields after sampling over 97 percent of the state’s farmland.

"The grain is clean," Fraley said. "This situation is extremely isolated, with all the testing data again concluding that this is isolated to a single field in Oregon."

Monsanto earlier pointed to sabotage as one of possible scenarios in the incident.

USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said on Friday that the probe is focusing on the three varieties of soft white wheat seed that the farmer in Oregon who found Monsanto’s experimental wheat had planted on his farm since 2009.

Investigators identified over 250 farmers who purchased the same seed varieties and obtained samples of those seeds, he said.

The contamination scandal has hurt US grain exports, as Japan and South Korea issued import restrictions in the wake of the discovery. US farmers have filed several lawsuits seeking damages from Monsanto.

Meanwhile, food safety advocates are preparing for a new round of protests against GMO-companies, primarily Monsanto, which is viewed globally as a champion of bioengineered foods. In an action dubbed the Monsanto Video Revolt next month, critics of the company are preparing to upload videos explaining why they are against GM crops to major video websites such as Vimeo or YouTube and to use social media to publicize the action.


Monsanto’s Oregon GMO wheat scandal puzzles investigators

A farmer in Oregon discovered in May that a GMO wheat crop manufactured by biotech company Monsanto and discontinued years earlier had mysteriously sprouted in his field. But after an array of testing was waged from the United State Department of Agriculture and others, it’s still uncertain months later where the crop came from.

A Monsanto-made GMO wheat strain was tested on the field between 1998 and 2005 before the St. Louis, Missouri-based agro-giant withdrew its application from the USDA’s regulatory approval process. By that point, though, it had spent seven years planting a particular strain of wheat that could withstand exposure to Monsanto’s own “Roundup” pesticide. When an Oregon farmer realized two months ago that some plants in his wheat field were surviving despite dousing them with Roundup, he became suspicious. Soon after the USDA did too, even launching a federal investigation.

The zombie crop raised concern around the world when foreign buyers of US goods objected over possibly buying a harvest infected with hybrid seeds unapproved of overseas. Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley went on to call the entire incident “suspicious” and generated calls of potential sabotage, but even still the mystery remains unsolved.

The result, NPR reported this week, could mean hundreds of millions of dollars if Asian buyers exit from contracts with American farmers.

Weighing in weeks after he touted the possibility of the incident being the result of sabotage, Fraley still seemed unsure. "The fact pattern indicates the strong possibility that someone intentionally introduced wheat seed containing the CP4 event into his field, sometime after that farmer initially planted it," Fraley told NPR, referring to Monsanto's patented Roundup resistance gene

Fraley also said that anti-GMO activists upset with his company could have orchestrated it to discredit the company. Monsanto was in fact the focus of a day of international protests earlier this year held by GMO activists on six continents, and like-minded advocates continue to petition against Washington’s ties to the biotech industry.

There are folks who don’t like biotechnology and who would use this as an opportunity to create problems,” Fraley previously told reporters.

But as the investigation remains unresolved, the entire incident may unfold to be nothing more than an honest mistake. Oregon State wheat breeder Bob Zemetra told NPR that Fraley’s claim seemed a bit of “a stretch” and suggested it was something much simpler.

"Or you have a bag that gets mislabeled and gets put on the shelf and just sits there," he said.

Others, like Oregon State University weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith, say it really could be anything.

There are so many places in the system where errors can be made,” she told Nature. “Once we release these genes into the field, we should just assume that they are going to stay in the environment.”

We may never know who actually released it,” added Washington State University Director of Agricultural Research James Moyer.


Monsanto Claims Sabotage as Oregon Becomes A War Zone for GMOs

A known target for anti-GMO activists, concerned consumers and health and environmental advocacy groups, biotech giant Monsanto claims it has been the victim of sabotage after its GMO wheat was found mysteriously growing in Oregon.

The GMO wheat variety found on a farmer&aposs field was a strain tested by Monsanto between 1997 and 2005 before being pulled, and, says the company, properly destroyed. Monsanto claims the decision to stop field trials came as a result of hesitation and concerns from some of the country&aposs biggest customers of exported U.S. wheat, many of whom have bans or restrictions on genetically modified foods. The U.S. is one of the world&aposs leading exporters of wheat.

Monsanto has urged the USDA to investigate the possibility of sabotage, particularly since the GMO wheat was discovered only in a small portion of the field rather than dispersed throughout. Robert Fraley, Monsanto&aposs chief technology officer told reporters on a call that isolated location was indicative of intentional contamination, or sabotage.

Several farmer lawsuits have emerged in the wake of the wheat discovery. Farmers have sued Monsanto seeking damages, citing the company&aposs negligence contributed to the appearance of the GMO wheat, which has slowed exports to countries including Japan and North Korea as well as some EU member states.


Monsanto Says Sabotage Is Likely in Wheat Case

The crop-biotechnology company Friday called on authorities to investigate the discovery as it made its strongest statement yet that sabotage led to the incident, which was announced in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Monsanto had said earlier this month that sabotage was among several possible causes.

The discovery of the wheat, genetically engineered to survive exposure to the widely used herbicide glyphosate, has threatened to upend the wheat market. In the wake of the discovery, Japan and South Korea imposed restrictions on imports of U.S. wheat, which remain in place.

The fact the genetically modified wheat in question was found in one isolated portion of a farmer's field, instead of being dispersed throughout the field, indicated that contamination of seed supplies in the region didn't appear to be a possibility, said Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer and executive vice president.

Instead, Mr. Fraley said during a media briefing, the unapproved wheat appeared to be placed in the northeast Oregon field separately, adding the farmer was a "victim" in the incident.


Monsanto points to sabotage at GMO-contaminated wheat field

Biotech giant Monsanto says that its unapproved experimental wheat ended up growing at an Oregon field through what most likely was an isolated act of sabotage.

“What happened in this field… is suspicious,” said Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley on Friday, reporting on the ongoing investigation into the scandal.

In late May, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the discovery of bioengineered wheat, which had been made resistant to Roundup, a Monsanto-sold pesticide. The plant was developed by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005, but was never approved and made into a commercial product.

The company has thus far failed to determine how the crop entered the environment, and insisted that all genetically modified seeds were incinerated after testing.

The fact that the ‘Roundup Reade’ wheat was found growing at only one spot of the 80-acre farm instead of being spread across it indicates that contamination of seed supplies is unlikely, Fraley argued. The crop was apparently planted there separately, he said, adding that the farmer was “a victim” in the case.

He added that investigations conducted by the company, the USDA, and Washington State University found no signs of contamination in other Oregon fields after sampling over 97 percent of the state’s farmland.

“The grain is clean,” Fraley said. “This situation is extremely isolated, with all the testing data again concluding that this is isolated to a single field in Oregon.”

Monsanto earlier pointed to sabotage as one of possible scenarios in the incident.

USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said on Friday that the probe is focusing on the three varieties of soft white wheat seed that the farmer in Oregon who found Monsanto’s experimental wheat had planted on his farm since 2009.

Investigators identified over 250 farmers who purchased the same seed varieties and obtained samples of those seeds, he said.

The contamination scandal has hurt US grain exports, as Japan and South Korea issued import restrictions in the wake of the discovery. US farmers have filed several lawsuits seeking damages from Monsanto.

Meanwhile, food safety advocates are preparing for a new round of protests against GMO-companies, primarily Monsanto, which is viewed globally as a champion of bioengineered foods. In an action dubbed the Monsanto Video Revolt next month, critics of the company are preparing to upload videos explaining why they are against GM crops to major video websites such as Vimeo or YouTube and to use social media to publicize the action.