Scientists unswayed by Monsanto’s conclusions on rogue wheat

Several plant scientists questioned conclusions Monsanto Co. drew from its investigation of an escaped gene-altered wheat variety and said there is still a risk that rogue grain is in the seed supply.

In its first detailed response to last week’s announcement that a genetically modified wheat not approved for use was found growing in an Oregon farmer’s field, Monsanto said that it has since tested 31,200 seed samples in Oregon and Washington and found no evidence of contamination.

That’s not enough to convince some researchers that this genetic modification, not cleared for commercial sale, won’t be found in some wheat seeds.

“We don’t know where in the whole chain it is,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, the weed science professor at Oregon State University who tested the initial wheat plants and determined they were a genetic variety Monsanto had tested. “I don’t know how Monsanto can declare anything. We obviously had these plants in the field.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating how the wheat showed up eight years after the company ended field tests. It was found growing on about 1% of the farmer’s 125-acre (51-hectare) field, and he submitted it to Oregon State for testing after an application of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide didn’t kill it.

Federal Lawsuit

The discovery prompted Japan and South Korea to suspend some U.S. wheat purchases, and a Kansas farmer alleged in a federal lawsuit filed this week that Monsanto damaged the market for his crop.

Wheat futures since the find was announced on May 29 on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen 0.2% to $7.04 a bushel of 10 a.m. Chicago time.

Nigeria, the third-biggest buyer of U.S. wheat, has no plans to alter purchases because of the Oregon incident, the country’s agriculture minister, Akinwumi Adesina, said in an interview today in Washington. The world’s seventh most-populous nation has passed a law allowing such crops, pending the president’s signature.

The St. Louis-based Monsanto’s $13.5 billion of annual sales are anchored in corn and other crops genetically engineered to tolerate Roundup, the world’s best selling herbicide. These Roundup Ready plants are widely grown in the U.S. because they allow farmers to kill weeds without harming the crop.

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