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USDA investigating GE wheat on Oregon farmqrcode

Jun. 3, 2013

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Jun. 3, 2013
Genetically-modified wheat plants were found on a farm in Oregon, triggering a government investigation because the crops had not been approved for commercial production or sale. Further testing indicated the wheat was the same variety that Monsanto Company had been authorized to test in 16 states from 1998 through 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said the wheat, which had been engineered to resist the herbicide glyphosate , did not present a food-safety concern.

“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation," said Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services, in a statement. “Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened. We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. USDA will put all necessary resources towards this investigation."

Monsanto, the agricultural bioengineering company, said it would work with USDA to investigate the situation, but it underscored that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) verified more than a decade ago that its Roundup Ready wheat was safe.

"This is the first report of the Roundup Ready trait being found out of place since Monsanto’s commercial development program was discontinued nine years ago," Monsanto said in a statement. "Our process for closing out the Roundup Ready wheat program was rigorous, well documented and audited."

Should a wrongdoer in APHIS' investigation be found to have violated the Plant Protection Act, it could face civil penalties of up to $1 million and criminal prosecution, the agency said.

The wheat discovery was brought to the attention of APHIS by an Oregon State University scientist who sampled the crop after a farmer detected glyphosate-resistant wheat that had not been intentionally planted.

"We have no reason to believe at this time that the farmer who reported the presence of glyphosate-resistant GE wheat volunteers in his field has committed any infraction," APHIS said.

In its statement May 29, Monsanto noted USDA had not provided the company details regarding its testing or samples necessary to verify the agency's findings.

"We will work with USDA to confirm their test results and as they consider appropriate next steps. We will also conduct a rigorous investigation to validate the scope of and to address any presence of a Monsanto Roundup Ready event in commercial wheat seed," Monsanto said.

USDA's announcement represented another setback for Monsanto, which recently learned that the agency plans to conduct environmental reviews in connection with the company's request to deregulate soybean and cotton that are resistant to certain herbicides.

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