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Monsanto acts quickly to resolve harvest mistake

Monsanto Co. has claimed responsibility and pledged “to take appropriate actions,” to prevent experimental cotton and cottonseed from entering the marketplace as either fiber, livestock feed or oil products.

Ty Witten, biotech cotton trait development lead for Monsanto, said about two-tenths of an acre of experimental cotton was mistakenly harvested in Dawson County, Texas, in late October, co-mingled with other cotton and that a small part of that was ginned and some seed may have been processed.

The U.S. government said no food or feed safety concerns resulted from the incident in which the small amount of an experimental genetically engineered (GE) cotton line was harvested with about 55 acres of commercial cotton.

Approximately 60 tons of cottonseed was harvested, of which less than 0.5 percent was from the unauthorized GE cotton.

“As soon as we learned of the incident we acted quickly and worked with USDA and other agencies,” Witten said. “We regret the incident, but everyone involved pulled together. We take stewardship seriously.”

Witten said Monsanto representatives also worked closely with the gin and processor to isolate the experimental cotton.

Follow-up will involve numerous U.S. agencies, including USDA, FDA, EPA, and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The experimental cotton included a protein already marketed in a corn hybrid. The protein is a variant of Cry 1A 105 that acts as a pesticide against cotton insect pests.

Janice Person, with Monsanto public affairs, said the protein produced in the GE cotton is currently available in commercial corn hybrids, known as YieldGard VT PRO.

The U.S. government is investigating whether a small amount of meal from the unauthorized GE cotton variety may have been inadvertently released into the animal feed supply. The processor is holding potentially affected material (both processed and unprocessed) pending further investigation.

EPA has concluded that there would be no risk to animals consuming small amounts of feed from the unauthorized cotton, or to humans from consuming meat or milk from these animals. The presence of this material in food or feed, however, would be illegal.

“Monsanto has taken responsibility for this release and for resolving it in a manner that is satisfactory to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Monsanto's Jerry Hjelle, vice president of Global Regulatory Affairs.

Monsanto officials said as soon as they were aware of the mistaken harvest they informed the processor and quickly separated the suspect material. They tracked the commingled cottonseed from harvest to processing.

Monsanto also reported the incident to USDA.

(Editor's note: source material includes interviews and USDA and Monsanto releases)

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