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Farmer's first run-in with genetically modified wheat

Farmer's first run-in with genetically modified wheat

The grower who found unauthorized transgenic wheat in his field had worked the field for nine years without incident of uncontrolled volunteers, according to his lawyer.

This spring, however, the grower found a smattering of volunteer wheat plants after treating the field with a glyphosate herbicide, said Tim Bernasek, a partner in the Portland law firm Dunn Carney.

Bernasek said the grower then notified Oregon State University and sent in samples for study.

Tests by OSU and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined that the wheat contained the glyphosate-resistant gene that was developed by Monsanto Co. to resist the herbicide Roundup.

USDA APHIS is now investigating to determine, among other issues, how the glyphosate-resistant wheat ended up in the field.

In an interview with the Capital Press, Bernasek said he was authorized to release only minimal information on behalf of his client, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Asked why the client wishes to remain anonymous, Bernasek said: “Because there is an ongoing investigation and the investigation needs to run its course.”

USDA reportedly has put nine investigators on the case.

Bernasek said the 125-acre field where the transgenic wheat was found was one of several the grower had planted in the fall of 2011 to the soft white winter wheat varieties Rod and WB528.

The grower found the transgenic wheat in only one field, Bernasek said, and in only about 1 percent of the field. The uncontrolled volunteers also were not concentrated in any one area, Bernasek said.

Other fields farmed by the grower were tested for any sign of the glyphosate-resistant gene, Bernasek said. “Those tests were negative,” he said.

Bernasek said he was not authorized to reveal whether his client leases or owns the field where the transgenic wheat was found.

The field now is in summer fallow, he said.

Bernasek said that to the grower’s knowledge, the field had never been part of any glyphosate-resistant wheat trial.

Monsanto Co. conducted field trials with “Roundup Ready” wheat in Oregon and 15 other states for about seven years. The last field trial in Oregon took place in 2001, according to USDA.

Bernasek would not reveal where the field is located, but according to figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the only sector in Oregon where Rod is planted is the northeast region.

Rod is a semi-dwarf soft white wheat variety with good cold hardiness that was developed by Washington State University. The public variety was planted on about 8,000 acres in the region in 2011, according to the figures.

WB528 is a semi-dwarf soft white winter wheat variety developed by WestBred, of Bozeman, Mont. WestBred was purchased by Monsanto in 2009.

No information on planted acreage for the variety was available on the NASS website. A call to WestBred was not returned as of press deadline.

Russ Karow, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Oregon State University, said to his knowledge neither Rod nor WB528 were tested with the Roundup Ready gene.

“From what I know, the work done in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that was all done with a variety called Bob White,” Karow said.

Karow said he didn’t know if it was the Rod, WB528 or another variety that was found with the Roundup Ready gene.

He said it is doubtful that seed from Monsanto trials blew into the field, given that wheat seed typically doesn’t move on wind.

Also, he said, although cross pollination does occur at very low levels among wheat plants, the plants typically are self pollinating, so that possibility also is unlikely.

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