Lawsuits accusing Monsanto of allowing its experimental genetically modified wheat crop to contaminate farmers’ fields took a step forward this month when sixteen suits were approved for consolidation in Kansas. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled last Wednesday that cases currently filed in district courts around the U.S. can be brought together in the District of Kansas as they share common factual questions. The cases concern allegations that Monsanto’s development and field-testing of GM wheat – not currently approved for use anywhere in the world – led to contamination of wheat crops in nearby fields, and subsequently led to price drops and import bans on U.S. wheat destined for Asia and Europe. The consolidation was unopposed by both Monsanto and plaintiffs.
Farmers now claim that Monsanto’s actions have led to price drops.
Between 1998 and 2005 Monsanto, one of the world’s largest biotechnology and agriculture companies, developed a strain of wheat, named Roundup Ready, that was resistant to herbicides. Following difficulties obtaining approval and commercial resistance to genetically modified wheat, the company discontinued the project that involved crops grown throughout 16 states. At the time, the company allegedly destroyed the remaining crops. However, the discovery last April of an unknown wheat strain growing in an Oregon field led to allegations that the crop was Roundup Ready and that seeds from the modified wheat had contaminated nearby crops. The news that an unapproved and unregulated crop could potentially have infected otherwise healthy fields led to widespread concerns in the $8.1 billion wheat export industry, and Japan, along with the EU, imposed export restrictions and shipment suspensions.
Farmers now claim that Monsanto’s actions have led to price drops, lost income, and increased costs as they seek to confirm if their wheat is fit for export by using costly tests and carefully sorting harvest grain.
Monsanto denies any wrongdoing and argues that its genetically modified wheat program has always complied with U.S. Department of Agriculture laws. For plaintiffs in the cases, though, the evidence is clear, and several separate lawsuits were filed against Monsanto before the consolidation. The Center for Food Safety, Wahi Ranch Ltd. and Dreger Enterprises are among those to have filed putative class actions.
Since the discovery of genetically modified wheat crops in the Pacific Northwest, countries including South Korean and China have also imposed stricter testing on U.S. wheat.
The MDL’s location in Kansas gives it good access to both Mosanto’s headquarters and the location of relevant related documents, the transfer order notes.