Farmers Sue Monsanto After GMO Seeds Pollute Other Crops

Monday Aug 12, 2013 | BY |
| No Comments

Wheat

After contaminated wheat was discovered in Oregon, farmers sued Monsanto for genetic pollution.

On June 12, 2013, Huffington Post ran an article reporting on a new lawsuit filed by farmers in Idaho against seed giant Monsanto. The farmers filed the suit after genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field—not far from Idaho’s borders.

Genetically engineered wheat has not been approved for U.S. farming. The same discovery of the so-called “Roundup Ready” wheat growing in Oregon prompted Japan, Asia’s second-largest wheat buyer, to suspend some imports of the grain from the U.S. The country canceled a plan to buy 24,926 metric tons of western-white wheat in May, for fear that unapproved crops could make their way into Japan.

Though the GMO labeling proposition, which would have required labeling of GMO foods in California, failed in November 2012, the fight concerning genetically modified crops is clearly not over.

What Happened?

The Idaho lawsuit was filed in Boise’s District Court, where the plaintiffs have asked for class-action status on behalf of thousands of farmers of soft wheat in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and other states. Idaho farmers aren’t the only ones up in arms over the recently discovered genetic pollution. Farmers in Kansas also filed a lawsuit against Monsanto Co. for gross negligence after the discovery of genetically altered wheat in Oregon.

How did that wheat get there in the first place, if it has not been approved? Apparently Monsanto was working to develop the modified strain of wheat in 1997 that would be resistant to its popular pesticide, Roundup. Between 1998 and 2005, they field tested the Roundup Ready wheat in more than 100 fields in 16 states, including those owned by one of the farmers in the Idaho lawsuit. During the testing, they had applied for USDA permission to develop the GMO product, but they later withdrew the application when it became clear that there would be no world market for it.

Meanwhile, Oregon farmers made the discovery when they sprayed wheat with Roundup and it didn’t die. Multiple lab tests linked the crop to Monsanto.

Seed Drift Disrupts Wheat Trade

Even though Monsanto stopped testing the GMO wheat, they allegedly failed to take steps to be sure the plants didn’t contaminate regular wheat through cross-pollination or the mixing of seeds. The industry gathers and commingles wheat from thousands of farms for sale and shipping, making it near impossible to completely prevent contamination.

“Monsanto knew, or should have known,” the Idaho plaintiffs say in their complaint, “that the existence of genetically engineered wheat—commingled with the general wheat supply—would cause significant disruptions in the wheat export market, and that such a situation could involve huge disruptions in the wheat trade while imposing additional costs on U.S. wheat farmers and specifically Pacific Northwest soft white wheat farmers. These costs eventually would detrimentally impact worldwide prices for Pacific Northwest soft white wheat, causing significant financial damage to wheat farmers.”

Damage to Regular Crops & Earnings

Unfortunately, the discovery of the GMO wheat has reduced prices for all soft wheat because of the loss of export and domestic markets. Farmers now have to go through extensive testing to prove their fields aren’t contaminated before they can sell to some buyers.

South Korea joined Japan in suspending American imports of wheat in June 2013, sending another blow to farmers. The European Union, which imports more than 1 million tons of U.S. wheat a year, added their voice to the argument, stating they would ensure their “zero tolerance” policy against genetically modified crops was maintained.

Half of America’s wheat crop is exported, so the fallout is expected to be significant. “Contamination of non-GMO crops presents a huge risk to our agricultural economy,” said Martin Phipps, who litigated similar contamination claims involving U.S. rice over the past several years.

“Monsanto has failed our nation’s wheat farmers,” said Stephen Susman, one of the lawyers representing the Kansas farmers in litigation. “We believe Monsanto knew of the risks its genetically altered wheat posed, and failed to protect farmers and their crops from those risks.”

Turn About is Fair Play

It’s interesting to now hear that farmers are suing Monsanto, as over the last several years, the opposite has been the case. As of December 2012, Monsanto had filed 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and 56 small businesses, and had won $23 million in judgments.

In September 2011, for example, the company prevailed over a soybean farmer when a federal appeals court agreed that the farmer had infringed on Monsanto’s patent by planting and saving seeds that contained the company’s genetically altered Roundup Ready technology—even though the farmer said he bought those seeds as part of a mix of commodity seeds.

Commodity seeds come from farms that use Roundup Ready technology as well as those that don’t. No licensing agreements are required with the sale of such seeds. Yet Monsanto restricts grower use of these seeds to a single commercial crop season.

U.S. Behind on Labeling

It may take months or even years before we can analyze the full effect Monsanto’s mistake will have on wheat farmers. The USDA stated it is investigating how the unapproved seeds slipped out and were growing nine years after Monsanto ended its testing program. Meanwhile, foreign buyers are likely to be uneasy about purchasing from the U.S., and restoring that trust is going to take time and money.

California was the 21st state that tried and failed to pass GMO labeling legislation. Food companies pumped millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat the proposition. Abroad, they have less influence—more than 60 countries, including China, Europe, Australia, and Japan, require labels on GMO products.

Note: Some states are making new efforts in regards to GMO products.

What do you think about these lawsuits? How do you avoid GMO crops?

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

Comments are closed.