Biotech giant Monsanto says that its unapproved experimental wheat ended up growing at an Oregon field through what most likely was an isolated act of sabotage.
"What happened in this field... is suspicious," said Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley on Friday, reporting on the ongoing investigation into the scandal.
In late May, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the discovery of bioengineered wheat, which had been made resistant to Roundup, a Monsanto-sold pesticide. The plant was developed by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005, but was never approved and made into a commercial product.
The company has thus far failed to determine how the crop entered the environment, and insisted that all genetically modified seeds were incinerated after testing.
The fact that the ‘Roundup Reade’ wheat was found growing at only one spot of the 80-acre farm instead of being spread across it indicates that contamination of seed supplies is unlikely, Fraley argued. The crop was apparently planted there separately, he said, adding that the farmer was “a victim” in the case.
He added that investigations conducted by the company, the USDA, and Washington State University found no signs of contamination in other Oregon fields after sampling over 97 percent of the state’s farmland.
"The grain is clean," Fraley said. "This situation is extremely isolated, with all the testing data again concluding that this is isolated to a single field in Oregon."
Monsanto earlier pointed to sabotage as one of possible scenarios in the incident.
USDA spokesman Ed Curlett said on Friday that the probe is focusing on the three varieties of soft white wheat seed that the farmer in Oregon who found Monsanto’s experimental wheat had planted on his farm since 2009.
Investigators identified over 250 farmers who purchased the same seed varieties and obtained samples of those seeds, he said.
The contamination scandal has hurt US grain exports, as Japan and South Korea issued import restrictions in the wake of the discovery. US farmers have filed several lawsuits seeking damages from Monsanto.
Meanwhile, food safety advocates are preparing for a new round of protests against GMO-companies, primarily Monsanto, which is viewed globally as a champion of bioengineered foods. In an action dubbed the Monsanto Video Revolt next month, critics of the company are preparing to upload videos explaining why they are against GM crops to major video websites such as Vimeo or YouTube and to use social media to publicize the action.