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USDA: GMO wheat test will come from independent company

The Agriculture Department is working with independent testing companies to come up with a test for the presence of genetically modified wheat, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report today.

In an attempt to reassure foreign customers who are concerned about the discovery of genetically modified wheat plants in a field in Oregon, Vilsack said USDA is trying to find a test that will be quick and practical. He described one as a “rapid protein test” and another as a “more extensive DNA” test.

Vilsack said he could not provide a timeline on when the test would be available to foreign buyers, but that USDA wants to make it available as soon as possible.

Monsanto said Monday in a news release that is has provided USDA, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the European with a “validated testing method” for the original Roundup Ready wheat trait, technically referred to as the MON71800 event.

“The method will provide these governments with the opportunity to precisely and accurately test for the original Roundup Ready wheat trait, and distinguish it from traits that are already approved and widely used in other crops,” Monsanto said.

The company also said the test “is more reliable than currently available tests designed for testing other crops since it pinpoints the specific trait in question.”

Existing testing technologies, such as PCR, strip tests or dip stick tests, are likely to provide misleading results if applied to wheat, Monsanto said, adding that the validated testing method is expected “to further ensure confidence in testing resources available to these valuable export markets.”

The company also said that it would provide the validated method to other leading agriculture regulatory authorities as requested.

“So far, Monsanto hasn’t been provided with a sample of the plant material reportedly obtained from the field, and we don’t know what test was used on that seed that provided the positive result for the Monsanto Roundup Ready wheat event,” the company said.

Meanwhile, a Kansas wheat farmer today filed a civil lawsuit against Monsanto alleging gross negligence In the Oregon case.

The farmer, Ernest Barnes, seeks compensation for damages caused by the discovery on the grounds that it sent wheat export futures prices spiraling downward.

Barnes is represented by Susman Godfrey, a national trial law firm, and other firms. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, Susman Godfrey said in a news release.

In an email, a Monsanto dismissed the law suit as trial lawyers seeking a client.

“Tractor-chasing lawyers have prematurely filed suit without any evidence of fault and in advance of the crop’s harvest,” said David Snively, Monsanto executive vice president and general counsel.

“Monsanto’s process for closing out its original wheat development program was government directed, rigorous, well-documented and audited,” a company spokesperson added in the email.

“Neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as a reasonable explanation of the USDA’s reported detection,” the spokesperson said. “Moreover, researchers both in the public and private sectors acknowledge that the viability of wheat seed on average lasts one to two years in the soil. There is considerable reason to believe that the presence of glyphosate tolerance in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited. Given the care undertaken no legal liability exists and the company will present a vigorous defense.”