Monsanto’s Rogue Wheat Found in Montana as Oregon Probe Ends (1)
By Alan Bjerga and Jack Kaskey
Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) — Experimental wheat engineered by
Monsanto Co. was found on a Montana research field years after
testing concluded, reopening compliance issues for the world’s
largest seed company.
The genetically modified wheat discovered in July at a
Montana State University test plot near Huntley was engineered
to tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, Bernadette Juarez,
investigations director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, said on a conference
call with reporters today.
The discovery comes as investigators closed a probe into a
similar incident last year in Oregon that led some countries to
postpone U.S. wheat imports. The latest case shouldn’t affect
trade since the rogue wheat was found on a non-commercial farm
and the USDA found none in commerce.
“We’ve now opened an investigation into this regulatory
compliance issue,” Juarez said on the call with reporters. “We
remain confident that the wheat exports will continue without
The department said it was unable to find the source of the
Oregon wheat, which showed up eight years after St. Louis-based
Monsanto temporarily ended field tests of biotech varieties. The
agency plans to publish the 13,000-page investigation document
on the web today.
“While we believe our compliance program is best in class,
we continuously review our processes and procedures to improve
them, including site selection, field trial isolation, and
verification and auditing of field trial locations,” Philip
Miller, Monsanto’s head of regulatory affairs, said in an e-
mailed statement today.
The Oregon wheat, found last year growing on about 1
percent of a farmer’s 125-acre (51-hectare) field that was never
a testing site, led Japan, Korea and Taiwan to postpone U.S.
white wheat imports. Sales were reopened after additional
investigations showed no contamination of U.S. supplies.
“My program undertook one of the most thorough and
scientifically detailed investigations in the history of our
organization,” Juarez said. “Ultimately we were not able to
make a conclusion as to how it happened.”
Monsanto faced several lawsuits over the market impact of
potential contamination. The Montana incident, which occurred in
an area of one to three acres, should not disrupt trade, Juarez
said. The Food and Drug Administration in 2004 determined that
Monsanto’s wheat, known as Roundup Ready because it can tolerate
Roundup herbicide, is safe for food and animal feed.
“There are no safety issues with this wheat,” Juarez
Monsanto resumed trials of engineered wheat in 2011. The
USDA said it’s beefing up inspections of field trials of biotech
wheat, which are taking place this year in nine states and
Puerto Rico, and will monitor fields in nine states where the
plant was grown in 2012 and 2013. The Montana site was included
in wheat trials from 2000 to 2003, Juarez said.
The Montana variety was genetically different from the
Oregon type, making a connection between the two unlikely. In
Oregon, the agency said that after more than 291 interviews with
farmers, grain handlers and researchers, it was not able to
conclude how the wheat got in the field.
The incident highlighted tensions over genetically modified
crops between agribusinesses that support biotechnology and
advocates who question the products’ safety, with Oregon as a
A ballot initiative in November that would require labeling
of genetically modified foods in the state is winning 77 percent
support in early polls. In May, two rural counties in southern
Oregon passed ballot measures banning most genetically modified