A Kansas wheat farmer has filed a civil lawsuit against Monsanto alleging gross negligence and other causes of action following reports last week that unapproved genetically modified wheat was found growing in Oregon.
Ernest Barnes, a farmer in Morton County in the far southwest corner of Kansas, filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Wichita, alleging that he and other wheat farmers have suffered financially by the discovery of GM wheat sprouts in an 80-acre field in Oregon.
“Monsanto has failed our nation’s wheat farmers,” says Stephen Susman, the lead attorney for Susman Godfrey, the firm that filed the case on behalf of Barnes. “We believe Monsanto knew of the risks its genetically altered wheat posed and failed to protect farmers and their crops from those risks.”
The petition states that “Monsanto has released GE (genetically engineered) wheat into the non-genetically modified wheat population.” Further, the petition states that the “plaintiff has been harmed by any and all Monsanto GE wheat because it has impacted wheat exports and the price of wheat.”
The GM wheat discovery was made by an Oregon farmer who took to the field this spring to kill volunteer wheat sprouts by spraying them with glyphosate, and some of the sprouts unexpectedly survived. Scientists found the wheat was a strain field-tested from 1998 to 2005 and deemed safe before Monsanto withdrew it from the regulatory approval process.
After news of the GM wheat discovery, Japan and South Korea immediately suspended purchases American wheat, and the European Union, which imports more than 1 million tons of U.S. wheat each year, said it would ensure its “zero tolerance” policy against GM crops was maintained.
The suit does not state a specific claim for damages but says the amount in dispute exceeds $75,000. Barnes’ attorney says more lawsuits are likely, but Monsanto says the lawsuit is a “wild swing” that lacks basis.
“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 in a statement.
Monsanto said it had followed a "government-directed, rigorous, well-documented and audited" program in conducting its wheat field trials and it is likely that the presence of its biotech trait in wheat is very limited.
"Given the care undertaken, no legal liability exists and the company will present a vigorous defense," the Monsanto statement said.
Monsanto also issued a statement yesterday reiterating its full support to the U.S. wheat industry and regulatory authorities following the GM wheat incident.
“Monsanto has provided a validated testing method for the original Roundup Ready wheat trait to the USDA, and, more recently, to government regulators in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the European Union, as requested,” the statement says. “The method will provide these governments with the opportunity to precisely and accurately test for the original Roundup Ready wheat trait and distinguish it from traits that are already approved and widely used in other crops.”
Philip Miller, Monsanto vice president of Regulatory Affairs, said, “We have cooperated with the USDA and other regulatory authorities so that they can continue to have full confidence in U.S. wheat exports. While the USDA has noted that they have no evidence that the original Roundup Ready wheat trait has entered commerce, our support is aimed at ensuring that the U.S. wheat industry and wheat farmers do not experience disruptions in exports.”