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Monsanto Faces More Suits Over Genetically Modified Wheat

Friday, 07 Jun 2013 10:26 AM

Monsanto Co., 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 Biological Diversity and another 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 a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Spokane.

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 Biological Diversity 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.”

Nine Years

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.”

Detection Method

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 field, Fraley said.

‘Government Directed’

“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 Biological Diversity 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.

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Monsanto Co., 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.
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2013-26-07
Friday, 07 Jun 2013 10:26 AM
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