Monsanto Wednesday said it is considering multiple environmental, agronomic and managerial factors that may have contributed to the appearance of volunteer wheat plants in Oregon allegedly containing the company's Roundup Ready glyphosate-resistant trait.
Though not ready to rule any possibilities out, the company said it's also not ready to agree that the that the spring wheat found does in fact include the exact trait that was studied in field trials more than 10 years ago – but fully discontinued in 2004.
Due to regulatory process, neither USDA nor Oregon State University has provided samples directly from the affected field to Monsanto, effectively requiring the company to operate on the information USDA has released.
"The testing is complex, and sophisticated methods are required to precisely identify the CP4 (Roundup Ready wheat) event," said Robb Fraley, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer, during a media call Wednesday. Fraley explained that the finding "seems like to be 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."
The company has been able to determine through their testing methods that 60% of spring wheat varieties used in Oregon and Washington fields from 2011 -- the year the field in question was last planted – are free of GE contamination.
Monsanto representatives said if the company were able to obtain samples of the affected wheat, it could further use its own testing methods to determine the exact wheat variety in question and therefore narrow origination possibilities.
For now, the company has been using USDA information and other testing measures in attempt to determine how the alleged GE wheat appeared. It says the absence of similar reports of glyphosate resistant wheat from other farmers, and the affected farmer's other fields, indicates that the issue is likely point-sourced, and not systemic.
That finding, coupled with agronomic research that shows spring wheat seed stays viable for only one to two years in Oregon climates, and that wheat pollen typically travels no more than 30 feet from the host plant, Monsanto said a natural occurrence stemming from 2001 field trials is relatively improbable.
"We know that the circumstances are highly unusual that the farmer purchased this blended (spring wheat) seed, planted it on multiple fields and only one field generated the volunteers," Fraley said. "It is unusual, we can't rule anything out, and we are going to continue to do research until we can get to the answer."
Aware of the trade implications the GE wheat discovery could have, Monsanto Monday announced it would provide its testing methodology and positive samples of the GE wheat to trading partners Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the European Union for their use in determining if any imported wheat contains the GE trait. Monsanto also provided USDA with the testing materials, though it does not know if any of the countries or the USDA are using them.
Representatives also clarified that current field trials the company is conducting on wheat are focused on glufosinate resistance and drought tolerant varieties. No genetic similarity exists between the variety believed to have been found in Oregon and current trials.