A wheat farmer in Kansas has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that the infamous agricultural giant is guilty of gross negligence for not containing the unapproved genetically modified wheat which was recently discovered in Oregon.
The farmer, Ernest Barnes, said that Monsanto’s GMO wheat has put all of the United States’ wheat export sales at risk. Meanwhile, Monsanto claims they have no clue how the “Roundup Ready” strain of wheat ended up in an Oregon field since they say they abandoned their research in 2004.
Indeed, Barnes is quite right in saying that the discovery has already impacted U.S. wheat exports. Japan canceled part of a tender to buy U.S. western white wheat. Japan is one of the largest export markets for U.S. wheat.
South Korea also suspended imports of U.S. wheat and said they would increase inspections of imports.
The EU similarly said they will test incoming shipments and will block any shipments containing GMO wheat.
“Monsanto has released GE (genetically engineered) wheat into the non-genetically modified wheat population,” Barnes’ petition states.
The “plaintiff has been harmed by any and all Monsanto GE wheat because it has impacted wheat exports and the price of wheat,” the petition adds, according to Reuters.
The unfortunate reality is that the scale of the spread of Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat is not quite known at this point.
Reuters points out that it is not even known if it “has contaminated food supplies” leading to multiple countries backing away from purchasing U.S. wheat.
While the lawsuit does not state a specific claim for damages, it does say that the amount in dispute exceeds $75,000.
Barnes seeks damages to be determined at trial, according to the Associated Press. However, AP notes that Warren Burns, one of Barnes’ attorneys, said that the scope of damages is potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture claims that Oregon wheat is safe to eat and that there is no evidence showing that the GMO wheat entered the marketplace, entire countries apparently aren’t willing to take their word for it.
“These types of suits serve the purpose of helping police the agricultural system we have in place and make sure farmers are protected,” Burns told AP.
While Barnes’ lawsuit is believed to be the first in response to the discovery, his attorney said that similar suits are in the works, according to AP.
The cases may be consolidated to make the process of discovery easier. Discovery involves obtaining, investigating and sharing evidence among parties.
As expected, Monsanto has been critical of the lawsuit.
“Tractor-chasing lawyers have prematurely filed suit without any evidence of fault and in advance of the crop’s harvest,” David Snively, Monsanto executive vice president and general counsel, said.
Monsanto claims that they followed a “government-directed, rigorous, well-documented and audited” process of closing out their GMO wheat program.
They pointed out that on average wheat seed is only viable for one or two years in the soil. One must wonder then, where did the contamination come from if the program was so rigorously closed out some nine years ago?
Monsanto claims that they are not to be held liable for the contaminated crop because they took so much care to prevent contamination.
“Given the care undertaken, no legal liability exists and the company will present a vigorous defense,” Monsanto said in a statement
Obviously the contamination still happened so it’s unclear just how much care was actually taken.
Interestingly, Bloomberg recently reported that Monsanto is conducting field trials of a new GMO wheat variety in two states.
“The world’s largest seed company planted 150 acres (61 hectares) of wheat in Hawaii last year that was genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate weedkiller, which the company sells under the brand name Roundup, according to a Virginia Tech database administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Jack Kaskey wrote for Bloomberg.
“Another 300 acres of wheat engineered with Roundup tolerance and other traits are being tested in North Dakota this year,” Kaskey added.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Monti Belot of the U.S. District Court in Wichita, Kansas.
Burns said that he thinks the lawsuit will remain in U.S. District Court in Kansas due to the “tremendous amount of harm [that] has fallen on Kansas and Kansas farms.”
“We view it as very important to maintaining farmers and maintaining the way of life they lead which is very important not only to this country but countries around the world to which we export,” Burns said.
“It is hard to underestimate the importance of the American wheat crop in sustaining people around the globe,” Burns added, according to AP.
If the unapproved GMO wheat is found to be more widespread than the initial discovery in Oregon, the U.S. wheat exports estimated to be worth around $9 billion this year could be put at even greater risk.
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