Monsanto Co. said on Wednesday that it found no traces of its long-discontinued experimental biotech wheat product during testing of commercial wheat seeds in Oregon and Washington, prompting officials for the world's largest seed company to suspect possible foul play.
When illegally produced, gene-altered wheat was discovered growing in an Oregon field – eight years after Monsanto ended its field trials – Japan halted orders of U.S. wheat, Bloomberg reported
. South Korean millers also suspended purchases of U.S. white wheat, and the Taiwan Flour Mills Association requested that the U.S. label exports by state of origin.
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In a lawsuit filed in a Wichita federal court, a Kansas farmer accused Monsanto of negligently releasing genetically altered wheat seed domestically and harming the market for his crop. Barnes is seeking at least $100,000 in damages. Filed June 3 by Ernest Barnes of Morton County, Kansas, it could the first of many to allege contamination, his lawyers said in a statement.
"Monsanto has failed our nation's wheat farmers," Stephen Sussman, a lawyer for Barnes with Houston-based Sussman Godfrey LLP, said in the statement. "Monsanto knew of the risks its genetically altered wheat posed and failed to protect farmers and their crops from those risks."
Officials for the St. Louis-based Monsanto said they've provided DNA material and an event-specific test to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to help determined commercial supplies for any contamination of its genetically created herbicide-resistant wheat known as Roundup Ready. The European Union, Taiwan, Korea and Japan have also received the test upon their request.
Despite ending field trials in 2005, the Roundup Ready trait was found growing in wheat on an Oregon wheat farm in April. The company said Wednesday that it tested 30,000 samples of 50 varieties, or 60 percent of white wheat acres in Oregon and Washington, and found no evidence of its Roundup Ready trait, which Monsanto calls "CP4."
"All varieties are clean of this event in wheat. This is a critical development," said Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Fraley said the company is confident in the validity of this test. He said the testing performed over the last week has led to the belief that the incident is "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."
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"What is going on? This is an important question," Fraley said, while insisting that he wasn't blaming the farmer. "We aren't ruling anything out at this point. We know that the circumstances are highly unusual. We're going to continue to do the research until we get to the answer."
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