Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, was hit with two class action lawsuits in early June after unapproved genetically modified wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field last week.
The discovery had an immediate chilling effect on international exports of soft white wheat from America after some Asian nations canceled orders and the European Union advised member states to screen grain imports from the U.S. more closely. This caused Northwest farmers to suffer diminished wheat prices, the class action lawsuits say.
“We farmers cannot stand idly by while companies like Monsanto destroy our export markets and our economy,” said Tom Stahl, one of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit filed in June.
Washington, Oregon and Idaho produce over 80 percent of total U.S. soft white wheat, which is primarily exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other nations, where it is used to make noodles and crackers. Today, approximately 85 to 90 percent of the Pacific Northwest’s soft white wheat crop is exported to these countries, according to the class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety.
The food safety advocate, suing on behalf of Washington-based Clarmar Farms Inc., said on Thursday that Monsanto’s negligence has directly harmed Northwest Farmers by producing a global wheat scare that chilled exports and depressed prices.
The genetically modified wheat has been identified as Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” wheat, which was constructed to be resistant to herbicide. Monsanto never disclosed where its field tests were conducted and the project was dropped over concerns the wheat could endanger wheat exports. Many people around the world reject genetically engineered products.
No Roundup Ready wheat, or any other genetically-engineered wheat, has been authorized for commercial sale or human consumption in the United States or anywhere, the Center for Food Safety says in the class action lawsuit.
“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 Monsanto wheat class action lawsuit says. “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 second class action lawsuit, filed by a group of Washington State farmers, says Monsanto not only failed to take the steps necessary to prevent genetically altered wheat from contaminating regular wheat, but also knew that such cross-pollination was unavoidable.
Monsanto issued a statement Wednesday that the emergence of the genetically modified strain was an isolated occurrence and blamed it on an accident or a deliberate mixing of seeds, saying the company is looking into “sabotage” as a possible explanation.
Kyle McClain, Monsanto chief litigation counsel, said the company’s process for closing out its wheat development program was government directed, rigorous and well-documented.