Wheat Farmers Claim Monsanto Ruined Sales

     SPOKANE (CN) – Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup-resistant wheat contaminated natural soft white wheat and hurt farmers’ export business, growers claim in two class actions.
     Genetically modified (GM) wheat found growing in an Oregon field in May is resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and not approved for commercial planting or sale. The farmers claim Monsanto failed to control the spread of its GM wheat during field tests in the Pacific Northwest.
     Dreger Enterprises and Wahl Ranch are named plaintiffs in one case. Plaintiffs in the other class action are Clarmar Farms, farmer Tom Stahl and the Center for Food Safety. Citations in this article are taken from the Dreger-Wahl lawsuit.
     Monsanto tested its transgenic “Roundup Ready” wheat from 1998 through 2005 but abandoned the project due to farmers’ concerns, according to the complaint.
     “Monsanto dropped the project and never sought approval based on concerns from U.S. farmers that genetically engineered wheat would endanger wheat exports. Although most American soybeans and corn are genetically engineered, these crops are largely consumed by livestock, used to make biofuels, or made into processed foods. Wheat products, in contrast, are consumed directly by people, and many consumers around the world reject genetically engineered products. A 2005 study estimated that the national wheat industry could lose $94 million to $272 million annually if genetically engineered wheat were approved,” the complaint states.
     The farmers say genetically engineered wheat and/or pollen escaped from the trials and contaminated conventional wheat.
     “In the planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, storing and/or disposing of the genetically engineered wheat field tested between 1998 and 2005 by Monsanto and its field trial operators, some genetically engineered wheat escaped to contaminate conventional wheat. Monsanto knew, or should have known, that it was impossible to completely isolate the genetically engineered wheat from other varieties of soft white wheat and that the genetically engineered wheat would inevitably cross-pollinate, commingle with other conventional wheat seeds and/or find its way into the food chain through other Monsanto acts or omissions as it has now done, according to the complaint.
     An Oregon wheat farmer discovered modified wheat in his field in May after noticing that plants sprayed with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, had not died.
     “The farmer who discovered the genetically engineered wheat reported the finding to an Oregon State University researcher, who tested plant samples using ‘Roundup Ready’ quick test strips and genetic analysis. The results confirmed that the plants were from Monsanto’s unapproved seeds and contained transgenic constructs making them resistant to glyphosate. The farmer’s field was never used for trials of Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant wheat,” the complaint states.
     The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced confirmation of the results on May 28 and is investigating how the test wheat spread.
     Farmers say Japan immediately canceled import of soft white wheat after the announcement.
     “The announcement led to immediate concern that the development could disrupt exports of soft white wheat from the Pacific Northwest. For example, on May 28, 2013, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) canceled its soft white wheat order, but did purchase its regular allotment of red spring wheat and red winter wheat. An official with the Japanese Embassy stated that the country would cancel orders for Pacific Northwest soft white wheat because Japanese people were ‘concerned about the discovery of unapproved wheat,'” according to the complaint.
     “Similarly, it was reported on May 31, 2013 that Japan had postponed a 25,000-ton order of soft white wheat from a Portland, Oregon grain shipper and that South Korea and the European Union have called for tests of American wheat. In particular, South Korea has increased inspections of incoming American wheat. Chinese officials said they would be ‘monitoring the situation’ and Japan’s consul general in Portland said on May 31 that his country would need assurance that Oregon wheat is safe before continuing to import the soft white wheat variety. Japan’s decision to suspend soft white wheat imports from the Pacific Northwest led traders to forecast potential long-term effects on the wheat industry: ‘Nobody’s going to want to buy wheat from the PNW (Pacific Northwest) for a while,’ said an analyst with the Linn Group.”
     The farmers say Monsanto was aware of the “potential detrimental market effects arising from the use of such crops” but failed to use adequate safeguards.
     “Due to Monsanto’s wrongful conduct, soft white wheat destined for export markets for use in food products has been rejected for the purposes for which it was intended. Because scheduled shipments already have been postponed and canceled, the presence of genetically engineered wheat has detrimentally impacted the domestic and global wheat markets and damaged plaintiffs and other wheat farmers,” the complaint states.
     The farmers seek compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages for negligence, nuisance and product liability. They also want Monsanto to decontaminate farmland, equipment and storage facilities.
     Dreger and Wahl are represented by Kim Stephens with Tousley Brain Stephens.
     Clarmar Farms, Tom Stahl and the Center for Food Safety are represented by Beth Terrell with Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie.

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