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Escaped Wheat Shows Difficulty of Keeping Crops on the Farm

May 31, 2013
Wheat   NRCS

As it established test plots for its genetically modified wheat, Monsanto Co. imposed tight rules, such as forcing researchers to burn or ship back leftover seeds. It wasn’t enough.

Almost a decade after Monsanto abandoned plans to sell a herbicide-resistant wheat variety, plants with that genetic makeup were found in an Oregon farm field, USDA said this week. Inspectors are trying to determine how the strain turned up years later and how widely it may have spread. Development tests were allowed in 16 states.

Scientists warn that such incidents are likely to persist, given weak federal rules and the strength of natural selection.

"Controlling seed movement is really a big challenge," said Cynthia Sagers, a professor at the University of Arkansas who researches plant evolutionary ecology. "If anyone were looking, they would find this in many other areas as well."

Monsanto fell 3 percent to $101.81 at 12:04 p.m. in New York. It earlier dropped 3.7 percent, the biggest intraday decline since Feb. 20.

For the world’s largest seedmaker, targeted by March Against Monsanto global protests this week over genetically modified foods, the biggest risks are likely to be from farmers confronting export restrictions and from super-weeds made herbicide-resistant by the genetic manipulations meant to help crops survive, researchers say. The USDA, St. Louis-based Monsanto and scientists say that human health isn’t a high risk in this case.


Resistant Weeds


"The real problem will be how agriculture deals with these resistant weeds that we’ve created, signed, sealed and delivered," Sagers said in an in interview. "This is going to be more of what we hear about until USDA takes a harder look at genetically modified crops, and GM escape."

An Oregon farmer tried to kill wheat using Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and found that several plants survived, the USDA said May 29. Monsanto had withdrawn an application for approval of the strain nine years ago amid concern that buyers would avoid crops from the U.S., the world’s biggest wheat exporter. No genetically modified wheat is cleared for commercial sale anywhere in the world.


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RELATED TOPICS: Wheat, Crops, News, Genetics, Seed

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COMMENTS (2 Comments)

- Cut Bank, MT
I am not sure your solution is doable Jake, but This illustrates how difficult keeping the 'Gene" in bottle is once it is exposed to nature. Monsanto does need to be held responsible in this and every other instance that they screw up. They are more than willing to collect royalties on patented genes, but what about taking responsibilities?

6:30 PM Jun 3rd
OOPS, I think that Monsanto will be given a pat on the wrist and farmers will lose export share over this. Ever wonder about the crops they are using to produce different drugs and what that would do to our bottom line if the same thing happened there? Scary thought. Maybe we destroy all wheat and have Monsanto pay today's price for all of it? Hopefully there is some pure wheat somewhere?
4:51 PM Jun 3rd



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