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article imageFarmers sue Monsanto over GMO wheat strain found in crops

By Leigh Goessl     Jun 7, 2013 in Food
This week complaints were filed in U.S. Federal Court against Monsanto Co. The plaintiffs allege the bio-tech giant failed to protect the U.S. wheat market from unauthorized wheat it had been testing several years ago.
Wheat farmers and environmentalists in the United States filed lawsuits on June 6 against biotech seed developer Monsanto Co., reported Reuters.
The plaintiffs hope to get class-action status.
The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto has harmed the wheat market.
Recently, it was discovered a wheat field in Oregon was contaminated with a trait of an unapproved form of genetically modified wheat that Monsanto had been experimenting with about 10 years ago.
The strain of GMO wheat found was supposed to have been ceased over 10 years ago. This particular seed was dubbed as "Roundup Ready", and was supposed to withstand Monsanto's branded pesticide. However, media reports indicate industry objection outweighed this type of wheat and Monsanto had not sought to bring the product to market.
Problems with U.S. exports of wheat was highlighted after Japan recently announced it would not allow some U.S. wheat into the country, as reported by Digital Journal. This led to market backlash and now farmers are concerned that Monsanto has harmed their industry. Other buyers across the globe are now either not buying U.S. wheat or very leery and stepping up testing.
"It risks one of the U.S.'s most important export markets unnecessarily," George Kimbrell, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. The Center for Food Safety is a plaintiff in one of the cases filed in Washington state.
Farmers testing the wheat seeds were supposed to destroy it or send it back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Monsanto claims it has no idea how evidence of the GMO wheat seed could be showing up in Oregon after all these years. The biotech giant maintains the GMO wheat strain found in Oregon is an isolated incident. The company also suggested sabotage.
Monsanto suggests the wheat's growth is "likely the result of an accident or deliberate mixing of seeds", reported Associated Press (courtesy Huffington Post).
Wheat Fields
GM wheat may grow taller and more hardy.
Florian Siebeck
"We're considering all options and that's certainly [sabotage] is one of the options," Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer said.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that GM wheat was sold on the market. Officials from the USDA are investigating. The agency said tests conducted in adjoining farms have showed no presence of the modified wheat to date.
"The facts to date show the report of glyphosate-tolerant wheat is limited to one field in Oregon, and no such wheat has entered the stream of commerce," Monsanto lawyer Kyle McCain said in a statement. He also said the lawsuits were "premature".
According to Bloomberg, this type of seed was tested in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.
"We need to know," said Blake Rowe, chief executive of the Oregon Wheat Commission. "Somehow this gene is out in the environment, but we're waiting for USDA to know how it could have happened."
In the meantime, concerns across the globe remain.
Currently, many consumers around the world are concerned with GMO foods. Last month a "March Against Monsanto" took place in dozens of countries around the world. In the U.S. and Canada, the lack of labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients is a hot topic of debate. Many countries in Europe have banned GMO foods, while the EU requires labeling.
The Washington cases are Center for Food Safety v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-00213, and Dreger Enterprises v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-00211. These were filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington in Spokane.
The Kansas case is Barnes v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-01218, and was filed in the U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, in Wichita.
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