Local facility didn't house suspect wheat
The federal agriculture department accounted for all of the approximately 1,500 pounds of the wheat seed developed by Monsanto Co. and stored in the facility for eight years, agriculture department spokesman Ed Curlett said in an email. Reuters first reported last month that the center had stored the unapproved, experimental seed, but new information from the USDA suggests that the genetically modified wheat found in the Oregon field did not originate from the facility.
"It did not come from there," Curlett said.
The facility received the wheat seed in December 2004, after Monsanto and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service reached an agreement to store the seed there, Curlett said. The facility, located on Colorado State University's Fort Collins campus, incinerated the last of the seed in January 2012.
"The seed was stored until Monsanto decided they need not have it stored anymore," Curlett said in an email. "All of the material was accounted for from the time it was received to the time it was incinerated."
The new information comes as the USDA investigates how the seed ended up in an Oregon field. Monsanto developed the wheat seed to withstand the company's glyphosate Roundup herbicide and tested it in 16 states including Colorado from 1998 to 2005, but the seed never reached the market. Monsanto says it discontinued the program in 2005 because of a decline in planted spring wheat acreage and "a lack of industry alignment at the time."
The wheat contained the same kind of Roundup-resistant genetic trait as corn and sugar beets commonly grown in Northern Colorado, and the Food and Drug Administration decided in 2004 that the wheat was safe to eat. However, no genetically modified wheat is authorized for planting or sale in any country, the USDA said.
Director David Dierig said the Fort Collins facility, one of the largest plant and animal-gene storage facilities in the world, typically stores varieties of plants for use by breeders and researchers. The facility contains almost 1 million kinds of plants in three 5,000-square-foot vaults guarded by steel doors accessible only by a handful of the facility's top administrators.
It also stores genetically modified seed from such companies as Monsanto, but does not distribute it.
Despite the lack of connection between the facility and the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon, Northern Colorado nonetheless influenced its development.
Early last decade, CSU researchers agreed to let Monsanto place its glyphosate-resistant genetic trait in the school's wheat varieties, said Scott Haley, professor and wheat breeder in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department.
CSU researchers simply gave Monsanto seed, he said. None of the research took place on campus, nor did it occur in CSU greenhouses, laboratories and fields.
"It all took place through an arrangement we had with Monsanto where they were doing the work at their facilities," he said.
CSU researchers didn't touch the Roundup-resistant wheat, but did test wheat with a drought-tolerant genetic trait.
From 2005 through 2007, CSU worked with Oklahoma State University to test spring wheat genetically modified to tolerate drought at CSU's Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center. Researchers found no improvement of the genetically engineered wheat over a standard variety of wheat, so they ended the program.
Researchers followed "an extremely rigid set of guidelines" to prevent the genetically modified wheat from entering surrounding farmland, said Patrick Byrne, professor in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department. Researchers checked the field for two years after each trial to make sure that no genetically modified wheat continued to grow there.
"I'm very certain that what happened in Oregon would not happen here," he said.
Today, CSU continues to study drought tolerance in non-genetically modified wheat. Its work includes finding what kinds of root structures and reproductive traits can resist drought.
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