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Dave Ross

The plant that wouldn’t die

It's now being called Zombie wheat - a strain of wheat engineered to be resistant to Roundup - which had been tested nine years ago by Monsanto. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

A wheat farmer is Kansas has now filed suit against Monsanto – saying it was negligent in the way it handled a genetically modified strain of wheat that refused to die.

When you spray wheat with the herbicide Roundup, it’s supposed to die. But last month Mike Flowers’ colleagues at Oregon State University received a sample of wheat sent by an Oregon farmer which inexplicably sprouted even after being sprayed. So they had it tested, “on the off chance it would be resistant to Roundup. That former test came back positive, and we thought that was a problem,” said Flowers.

It’s now being called Zombie wheat – a strain of wheat engineered to be resistant to Roundup – which had been tested nine years ago by Monsanto – but never got past the testing stage, and was never sold commercially and was supposed to have been destroyed.

“It’s certainly not supposed to be out growing in a farmer’s field,” said Flowers.

Yet here it was, showing up in a field nowhere near the plots where it had been tested.

The wheat is safe to eat – but that doesn’t matter to customers like Japan – which are refusing to buy any of it until the mystery is solved.

For the Union of Concerned scientists – this is a big-I-told-you so. Roundup resistant crops were supposed to make it easier for farmers to weed their fields, but Scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman says they can backfire:

“This has led, to, what is literally in the east and epidemic of weeds that are resistant to these herbicides,” said Gurian-Sherman.

The weeds themselves can apparently pick up the protective gene, and suddenly farmers are in an arms race with nature. And we know who bats last in that game.

Said Gurian-Sherman, “Potentially this the tip of an iceberg.

And so everyone waits – until the USDA solves the mystery of the wheat plant that wouldn’t die.

Read more:
Washington farmers sue Monsanto over freak wheat
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About the Author

Dave Ross

Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.


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