Monsanto Resumed Field Trials of Roundup Ready Wheat

Monsanto Co., whose experimental wheat from a canceled decade-old program was found growing in Oregon last month, is conducting field trials of a new genetically modified version in two states, U.S. data show.

The world’s largest seed company planted 150 acres (61 hectares) of wheat in Hawaii last year that was genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate weedkiller, which the company sells under the brand name Roundup, according to a Virginia Tech database administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another 300 acres of wheat engineered with Roundup tolerance and other traits are being tested in North Dakota this year.

The discovery of unapproved Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon, announced May 29 by the USDA, has sparked international concern, with Japan suspending imports of western-white wheat and feed wheat and South Korea increasing import inspections.

The Roundup Ready wheat in the new field trials is “an entirely different event” than the escaped crop reported by the USDA, St. Louis-based Monsanto said.

“This research is still in the very early phases and at least a decade away from commercial approval,” Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesman, said today in an e-mail response to questions. “The Roundup Ready wheat project that is the subject of the USDA report was previously discontinued.”

Monsanto dropped 4.1 percent to $100.64 at the close in New York, the biggest decline since Oct. 31, 2011.

Trials Suspended

Monsanto said in a statement earlier this week that it completed “closing out the Roundup Ready wheat program” nine years ago.

The USDA is investigating how the experimental wheat was found so long after Monsanto said research ended. Monsanto conducted eight Oregon field trials on herbicide-tolerant wheat between 1999 and 2002, according to the Virginia Tech database.

The Food and Drug Administration determined in a 2004 consultation that the crop is as safe for people and animals as conventional wheat, the USDA said.

Monsanto suspended field trials of herbicide-tolerant wheat in 2005 and resumed them in 2011, with 15 trials at sites in North Dakota and Hawaii, the data show. The specific herbicides that the crops are engineered to tolerate aren’t disclosed in most of the recent permits, with Monsanto invoking confidentiality claims.

Food Supply

Government investigators are tracking the wheat plants’ origin and assuring trade partners the exposure is limited and poses no threat to human health, Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said this week. No evidence exists that the unapproved wheat has entered the commercial food or feed supply, he said.

U.S. lawmakers are pushing measures to require labeling of products made from genetically modified crops, citing health and environmental concerns, a proposal opposed by farm groups and sellers such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based trade group. The National Research Council and other science groups have found engineered foods are no more risky than crops developed through conventional techniques.