The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has ruled that at least 16 lawsuits filed against Monsanto Co. over the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat will be consolidated in Kansas. While the MDL currently consists of five cases pending in four district courts, it potentially will include 11 related actions also pending in various courts. All actions share factual questions arising from the seed giant’s conduct with respect to the development and field testing of Roundup Ready wheat from 1998 through 2005, and the alleged discovery of the herbicide-resistant gene in wheat plants on an Oregon farm in 2013.
All the parties supported centralization of the lawsuits, but could not agree on an appropriate choice for transferee district. Ultimately, the MDL Panel selected the District of Kansas, determining that U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil would oversee the litigation. The panel’s transfer order said:
Weighing all factors, we have selected the District of Kansas. One action on the motion and two potential tag-along actions are pending in this district, and five related actions are pending in nearby districts.
The transfer order comes after Dreger Enterprises and Wahl Ranch Ltd., both Washington farms, and the Center for Food Safety, on behalf of Clarmar Farms Inc., filed separate putative class actions against Monsanto in Washington over the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Oregon crops. It was alleged in the suits that wheat prices were depressed and international exports were chilled.
Discovery in the suits prompted some Asian nations to cancel orders of soft white wheat from the United States. This pushed the European Union to advise member states to screen grain imports from this country more closely. It also caused northwest farmers to suffer depressed wheat prices. The wheat scare began with an Oregon farmer’s April discovery of a stand of wheat on his farmland in a spot where he had not planted seeds. He sent the wheat to a lab after discovering it was resistant to herbicides, and the lab determined it was a strain of Monsanto’s genetically altered crop. It was reported in Law360.com:
Monsanto insisted that the problem was an isolated incident and that it had confirmed through advanced testing that only a small number of plants contained the modified genetic material. Nonetheless, the event caused wheat export futures prices to plunge on the fear of export restrictions and led Japan – which imported $1.4 billion worth of U.S. wheat in 2011 – to suspend some shipments, according to court documents. Between 1998 and 2005, Missouri-based Monsanto field-tested the GMO wheat in 16 states, including Oregon, but abandoned its efforts for regulatory approval and terminated the project after meeting resistance in the marketplace, the CFS said. No country, including the U.S., has currently approved the sale or production of genetically engineered wheat.
The MDL is In re: Monsanto Co. Genetically-Engineered Wheat Litigation, before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
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