SALEM, Ohio — A Kansas wheat farmer filed a federal lawsuit against Monsanto June 3, and more cases are expected, after a field of genetically modified wheat was found in Oregon, causing wheat prices to fall.
Ernest Barnes, of Morton County, Kan., filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court in Kansas June 3.
The law firm, Murray Law Firm and Goldman Phipps, PLLC, filed the case before Judge Monti Belot.
According to the court documents, the farmer alleges gross negligence after the discovery of genetically modified wheat in an 80-acre field in Oregon in April.
“(Ernest Barnes) brings this suit because like thousands of wheat farmers from New York to Oregon, he has lost money and his livelihood and is now at serious risk as a result of Monsanto’s negligence or gross negligence,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Monsanto knowingly tested genetically engineered wheat in fields and did so knowing that the release of its experimental seeds into the general wheat population could cause the loss of huge domestic and export markets.
Neither the United States nor its trading partners have approved genetically modified wheat for human consumption.
The lawsuit also claims that mixing genetically engineered wheat into non-genetically engineered wheat could make the latter unsalable.
The farmer is seeking over $100,000 in compensation for damages caused by the discovery, which sent wheat export futures prices falling.
In April 2013, an Oregon farmer uncovered a strange stand of wheat growing where no wheat had been planted. He applied an herbicide to kill the stand.
When the herbicide was unsuccessful, he had it tested by Oregon State University. There, scientists discovered the wheat was actually genetically engineered wheat — altered to be herbicide resistant.
After news broke of the discovery of the unapproved wheat, Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of American wheat, and the European Union, which imports more than 1 million tons of U.S. wheat a year, said it would ensure its “zero tolerance” policy against genetically modified crops was maintained.
Kansas exports about 90 percent of its wheat.
Monsanto developed and planted the experimental wheat in open fields from 1998 to 2005. The company engineered the wheat to be resistant to glyphosate, the key ingredient in its own weed killer, Roundup. However the company never submitted the wheat to federal agencies for commercial approval.
In a prepared statement, the National Association of Wheat Growers said it was too early to be pointing fingers of blame.
“In our view, it is premature to find fault or lay blame regarding this situation and only serves as a distraction to what is truly important. NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates remain committed to working with APHIS to learn more details about how this situation may have occurred and with our international customers to help them maintain access to a reliable supply of high quality American wheat,” said Melissa Kessler, director of communications for the National Association of Wheat Growers.
The discovery of the genetically modified wheat in the Oregon field is being described as “sabotage” according to the June 6 edition of the Wall Street Journal.
The genetically modified wheat is likely due to the “accidental or purposeful mixing of seed” that was planted in the field. Monsanto is not ruling out the possibility of sabotage.
Monsanto is not, however, implicating the farmer who discovered the field in this incident.
So far, all tests performed show that the finding of the genetically engineered wheat is an isolated incident and that none of the samples of wheat Monsanto has tested in the same region of Oregon have tested positive for the genetic traits.
According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, Monsanto scientists have tested 600 samples of the varieties planted in the field in question and found no further detections of the Roundup Ready trait.
The company said it has also tested 50 other varieties used in the Pacific Northwest, which accounted for more than 60 percent of all planted acreage in 2011, and found no further areas of concern.