Monsanto says sabotage is possible cause of rogue modified wheat

Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, said experimental wheat engineered to survive Roundup weedkiller may have gotten into an Oregon field through an “accidental or purposeful” act.

Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating how genetically modified wheat that hasn’t been approved for commercial planting was found growing on an Oregon farm eight years after the company ended field tests. The discovery prompted Japan and South Korea to suspend some U.S. wheat purchases, and a Kansas farmer claimed yesterday in a federal lawsuit that Monsanto damaged the market for his crop.

The company’s tests show the genetically modified variety isn’t present in the types of seeds planted on the Oregon farm or in the wheat seed typically grown in Oregon and Washington, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said today on a call with reporters. The unapproved wheat was found growing on less than 1% of the farmer’s 125-acre (51-hectare) field, Fraley said.

“It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field,” Fraley said on the call.

Asked today whether the St. Louis-based company is suggesting the incident could be an act of sabotage, Fraley said, “That is certainly one of the options we are looking at.”

Contamination Tests

Fraley said he doesn’t mean to suggest the farmer who made the discovery is responsible.

Genetic tests of 1,200 seeds of the variety planted on the Oregon farm where the unapproved wheat appeared this year show the experimental variety isn’t contaminated with wheat modified to tolerate Roundup weedkiller, Fraley said. Tests of 30,000 seed samples sold in Oregon and Washington also showed no contamination, he said.

Monsanto fell 3.5% to $98.54 at 12:46 p.m. in New York. The shares have increased 4.1% this year.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday said tests of U.S. wheat imported by Japan, South Korea and the European Union found no presence of the unapproved grain engineered to tolerate Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide. Monsanto’s $13.5 billion of annual sales are anchored in other crops genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup.

Japan has halted imports of western-white and feed wheat, South Korean millers suspended purchases of U.S. white wheat and the Taiwan Flour Mills Association said it wants the U.S. to label cargoes by state of origin.

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