Monsanto Company on Wednesday announced settling lawsuits filed by wheat farmers in seven states in connection with the 2013 discovery of a genetically modified crop that was found in Oregon and had not been approved by the federal government for commercial use.
Without admitting liability, the agricultural biotechnology giant said it agreed to make donations of $50,000 to the agricultural school at the land grant university in each state. Under the settlement, Monsanto also will reimburse plaintiffs and their lawyers for part of their out-of-pocket costs and fees, according to a Monsanto news release.
The agreement was entered with wheat farmers in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. However, Monsanto noted claims filed by wheat growers in Arkansas who filed suit remain pending.
“Rather than paying the costs of protracted litigation, this agreement puts that money to work in research and development efforts for the wheat industry," said Kyle McClain, Monsanto chief litigation counsel, in a statement. “Resolution in this manner is reasonable and in the best interest of all of the parties."
After genetically modified wheat was discovered on a farm in Eastern Oregon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched an investigation to determine how the unapproved crop got there. The revelation caused wheat export futures prices to plummet on the fear of export restrictions and prompted Japan to suspend some shipments, according to an Oct. 17, 2013 Law360 article, which cited court documents.
“We believe this is a unique and fair mechanism for resolving the claims of Midwest and Southeast wheat farmers," interim lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Patrick Pendley of Pendley, Boudin & Coffin, L.L.P. in Plaquemine, Louisiana, noted in a statement. “The settlement fairly and equitably resolves our clients’ claims in a manner that will benefit all wheat industry farmers in the states receiving donations."
Testing of the glyphosate-resistant wheat in Oregon indicated it was the same variety that Monsanto had tested in 15 states from 1998 through 2005. The variety known as MON71800 had been last tested in Oregon in 2001, according to an investigation by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Following a 10-month investigation, APHIS concluded the presence of GE wheat plants in the 125-acre field was an isolated incident and did not enter commerce. APHIS determined the crop was not a commercial form of wheat but instead representative of a breeding program. The agency was not able to determine the source of the program, and it could not be ascertained how the crop got into the field, according to the agency, whose investigation includes a public file spanning 12,842 pages.
As of September 2014, when APHIS announced the findings of its investigation, the agency had not deregulated any varieties of genetically engineered wheat, which means such varieties cannot be sold in the United States.