U.S. agriculture experts braced today for continued fallout from the discovery of genetically-altered wheat growing in 80 acres in Oregon, which was announced this week.
The discovery has already led to Japan, the largest market for U.S. wheat exports, suspending imports from the United States and canceling a major purchase of white wheat on Thursday. The European Union, which imports more than 1 million tons of U.S. wheat a year, said that it was following developments “to ensure E.U. zero-tolerance policy is implemented.”
The strain was developed by Monsanto to make wheat resistant to the company’s own industry-leading weed killer. Monsanto tested the type of altered seed in more than a dozen states, including Oregon, between 1994 and 2005, but it was never approved for commercial use.
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The Agriculture Department reported that recent tests identified the strain after an Oregon farmer trying to clear a field sprayed Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, and found that the wheat could not be killed.
Monsanto issued a statement, stating while test results in Oregon “are unexpected, there is considerable reason to believe that the presence of the Roundup Ready [herbicide-resistant] trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited.”
Washington state agriculture chief Bud Hover said on his department's website that the modified wheat discovery – and the world's reaction to it – could have a larger impact.
“Although this discovery was made in Oregon, there could be impact to all Pacific Northwest wheat, including Washington,” Hover said. “Washington’s wheat industry plays a significant role in our state’s agriculture economy and is currently the state’s third most valuable agriculture commodity, generating more than $1 billion in revenue each year and supporting 25,000 jobs across the state. Nearly 90 percent of all Washington-grown wheat is exported,” he said.
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The developments has focused attention on Monsanto, a $56 billion company with more than $13.5 billion in sales of seeds, services, weed killer and biotechnology to the agriculture industry. In the face of mounting protests and a series of public demonstrations in multiple cities last weekend, the company has stood behind its other genetically modified products.
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