Monsanto Co. (MON:US), the world’s largest seed company, was sued by an environmental group and a Washington farm over claims it failed to take steps to prevent genetically altered wheat from contaminating regular wheat.
Yesterday’s complaint by the Center for Food Safety filed in federal court in Spokane, Washington, follow a June 3 lawsuit in Kansas brought after wheat modified to withstand St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup Ready weed killer was discovered on a farm in Oregon last month.
Monsanto field-tested the modified wheat in 16 states, including Washington, from 1998 to 2005, dropped the project and never sought U.S. approval to market the wheat for planting, according to the Washington complaint, filed yesterday.
In May, the U.S. announced that an unauthorized Roundup Ready genetically engineered trait had been detected in wheat from an Oregon farm.
“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,” the Center for Food Safety said in its complaint. “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 discovery of the altered wheat in Oregon, nine years after Monsanto ended an effort to have the wheat approved for commercial sale, prompted Japan to halt imports of western-white and feed wheat. South Korean millers suspended purchases of U.S. white wheat, and the Taiwan Flour Mills Association said it wants the U.S. to label cargoes by state of origin.
Kyle McClain, Monsanto’s chief litigation counsel, who said yesterday that the company hasn’t reviewed the Washington complaint, called the suit premature.
“The unexplained finding of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in a few ‘volunteer’ plants in one field on one farm in Oregon is scant basis for a lawsuit,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “What appears to be a random, isolated occurrence is the first report of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in the nine years since cessation of Monsanto’s commercial wheat development program.”
The European Union, which competes with the U.S. for exports, said Monsanto provided a method to detect the rogue strain of genetically modified wheat. The company also has provided the test to regulators in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Monsanto said the experimental wheat may have gotten into the Oregon field through an “accidental or purposeful” act. Monsanto and the U.S. Agriculture Department are investigating how the genetically modified wheat turned up in Oregon.
Monsanto’s genetic analyses found the variety hasn’t contaminated the types of seed planted on the Oregon farm or the wheat seed typically grown in Oregon and Washington state, Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said June 5 on a call with reporters. The unapproved wheat was found growing on less than 1 percent of the farmer’s 125-acre (51-hectare) field, Fraley said.
“Monsanto’s process for closing out its original wheat development program was government directed, rigorous, well-documented and audited,” McClain said in yesterday’s statement. “Given the care undertaken, no legal liability exists.”
Center for Food Safety lawyers said in the complaint they seek to represent all people and entities that grew, owned, planted or harvested soft white wheat since May 13. The complaint seeks a court order finding Monsanto negligent, awarding the plaintiffs compensation for their losses and requiring Monsanto to decontaminate wheat fields.
A Kansas farmer filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Wichita, Kansas, and a lawsuit by Washington growers was filed federal court in Spokane yesterday.
Dreger Enterprises, a white wheat farm owner in Creston, Washington, and Wahl Ranch Ltd., a wheat farm in Lind, Washington, are seeking decontamination of their fields, farm equipment and on-farm storage facilities to prevent future contamination, according to their complaint.
The Washington cases are Center for Food Safety v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-00213, and Dreger Enterprises v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-00211, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington (Spokane). The Kansas case is Barnes v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-01218, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas (Wichita).
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