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Washington Farmer Claims Monsanto Gene Tainted Alfalfa

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Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Washington State agriculture officials are examining a farmer’s claim that his alfalfa was rejected for export because it was contaminated with Monsanto Co.’s gene for herbicide tolerance.

The state is analyzing the farmer’s alfalfa seeds at a laboratory in Yakima after being contacted by the grower, Mike Louisell, a spokesman with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said by phone today. The farmer claims his crop was rejected because a test found the plants were genetically modified to tolerate Roundup herbicide, Louisell said.

The trait was developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto and marketed as Roundup Ready. Louisell declined to identify the farmer or the location of his land. He couldn’t say who conducted the original test that led to the export rejection.

Monsanto hasn’t been contacted by Washington officials or the grower, Tom Helscher, a company spokesman, said by phone today. Monsanto licenses its genetic traits to other seed companies and has no reason to believe the farmer planted Monsanto seeds, he said.

Conventional alfalfa is permitted to contain low levels of the Roundup Ready variety, with exact levels often negotiated between the farmer and the exporter, Helscher said.

Reuters reported the state’s alfalfa investigation earlier today.

The probe comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to investigate how an unapproved variety of Roundup Ready wheat was found on a farm in Oregon. After the USDA’s May 29 announcement, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan temporarily suspended some U.S. wheat purchases.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net