Monsanto Settles in GMO Wheat Case


by Katie Micik, DTN Markets Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — Monsanto Co. announced Wednesday it has reached a settlement with soft white wheat growers over the discovery of genetically engineered wheat on a farm in Oregon in May 2013, which led to temporary restrictions on exports.

Monsanto will set aside $2.125 million for a settlement fund for farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who sold soft white winter wheat between May 30, 2013, and Nov. 30, 2013.

Under the agreement terms, Monsanto will also give a total of $250,000 to wheat growers' associations, including $100,000 to the National Wheat Foundation and $50,000 each to Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Oregon Wheat Growers' League and the Idaho Grain Producers' Association.

In the event any portion of the settlement funds remain after claims are paid, up to $250,000 will be added to the donations to wheat organizations.

“Rather than paying the costs of protracted litigation, this agreement puts that money to work in research and development efforts for the wheat industry, while providing a negotiated level of compensation for farmers with documented soft white wheat sales from May 30 to Nov. 30, 2013,” Kyle McClain, Monsanto chief litigation counsel, said in a press release. “Resolution in this manner is reasonable and in the best interest of all of the parties.”

Monsanto did not admit liability under the settlement, nor did it settle complaints with farmers that grew other types of wheat besides soft white winter. Litigation is ongoing in Kansas.

In the spring of 2013, an Oregon farmer found wheat that continued to grow after several treatments with glyphosate, also known as Roundup, on roughly 1{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} of one field. Testing showed the wheat contained Monsanto's Roundup Ready trait even though research on that trait ended almost a decade earlier.

The U.S.' top export markets for soft white wheat — Japan, Taiwan and South Korea — temporarily halted and tested shipments for the presence of the trait. Ninety percent of soft white winter wheat is exported each year, and cash prices initially dropped at Pacific Northwest ports on fears of contamination.

Whitman Co., Washington, farmer and Washington Grain Commission member Randy Suess said prices eventually recovered because tight soft white wheat supplies were followed by another small crop. Relationships with Asian buyers are on the mend, too.

“A lot of them (Asian buyers) said they appreciate our openness and willingness to share information,” he said about a recent marketing conference. This year's soft white wheat crop has relatively high protein, which affects the baking quality for the cookies, crackers and pastries it's used in.

He did say the Japanese are still testing wheat shipments for the presence of genetically engineered traits. Since no biotech wheat varieties have been commercialized, the concern now comes from low-level presence of corn or soybean traits. The wheat industry is still trying to reassure Japan the testing is unnecessary.

A 10-month-long investigation by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service couldn't determine how the Roundup-resistant variety got onto the Oregon farm after interviewing nearly 300 farmers, grain elevators operators, crop consultants and wheat researchers.

APHIS said that further testing on the wheat variety showed it was not a commercial variety of wheat, and its genetic characteristics were more representative of a breeding program. APHIS found no evidence it entered commerce.

Suess said he's glad APHIS' investigation couldn't explain the appearance of the biotech trait or say that the wheat was of a particular class. There was no one to point a finger at, and “it feels good to have this whole thing behind us.”

When APHIS announced the results of its Oregon investigation, it also announced the discovery of genetically engineered wheat on a university research farm in Montana. Suess said that case didn't create many phone calls and almost seemed like a moot point to the market since the wheat in question wasn't sold commercially.

Suess was not acquainted with the details of the settlement with Monsanto.

Claims in the case will be handled by Heffler Claims Group. Soft white wheat farmers seeking a claim form or more information about the claims process can call 855-229-7512 or submit claims through the website



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Posted by Jami Howell

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