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Scientists look for source of rogue GM wheat

June 6, 2013 at 4:02 PM   |   Comments

PORTLAND, Ore., June 6 (UPI) -- Scientists say it is unclear how genetically modified wheat reached Oregon, where its discovery led to some foreign markets suspending imports of U.S. wheat.

Kendall Lamkey, chairman of the Iowa State University agronomy department, said "corn pollen can travel ... a great distance" under wind power or through contact with insects, but the wheat gene is "unlikely to be moving to other varieties in any significant way."

Wheat plants generally fertilize themselves, as opposed to scattering pollen, scientists said.

The genetically modified, or transgenic, wheat was found June 1 in a field in Oregon belonging to a farmer with a total of 125 acres planted with wheat. Less than 1 percent of his crop was found to include the transgenic strain, The New York Times reported.

Monsanto Co., which developed the strain, stopped tests on the crop 12 years, the Times said.

The transgenic strain was developed to make the wheat resistant to Roundup, an herbicide Monsanto produces.

Although health issues are generally not associated with genetically modified wheat, organic farmers would not be able to sell their crops at customary top prices if their crop is discovered to be genetically modified.

Europe and Japan ban imports of transgenic crops.

"All bets are off when you start introducing new kinds of crops," said David Ervin, environmental management professor at Portland State University. "That we haven't had any serious events to this point doesn't mean we won't have significant risks of them occurring in the future."

Monsanto officials told reporters on a conference call Wednesday the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon may have been the result of sabotage. The company said testing found no sign of genetic modification in 30,000 samples of commercial wheat seeds from Oregon and Washington state.

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