Monsanto sued by wheat farmer over gene-altered seed release

Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, was sued by a Kansas farmer who accused it of negligently releasing genetically altered wheat seed in the U.S. and damaging the export market for his crop.

The modified strain, which isn’t approved for human consumption or sale, was discovered on an 80-acre Oregon farm in April, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The lawsuit filed yesterday by Ernest Barnes of Morton County, Kansas, in federal court in Wichita could be the first of many against St. Louis-based Monsanto alleging contamination, according to a statement from his lawyers.

“Monsanto has failed our nation’s wheat farmers,” his attorney Stephen Sussman, of Houston-based Sussman Godfrey LLP, said in yesterday’s statement. “Monsanto knew of the risks its genetically altered wheat posed and failed to protect farmers and their crops from those risks.”

Barnes, who accused the company of negligence, gross negligence and creating a nuisance, is seeking at least $100,000, according to the complaint.

The USDA, in a May 29 statement, said Monsanto had been authorized to field-test the genetically modified seed in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.

‘Tractor-Chasing’

“Tractor-chasing lawyers have prematurely filed suit without any evidence of fault and in advance of the crop’s harvest,” David Snively, Monsanto’s general counsel, said today in an e-mailed statement. The program for “closing out” the wheat development plan was “rigorous, well-documented and audited,” according to the statement. The company said it will fight the farmer’s claims.

Monsanto said in a posting on its blog today that it gave the Agriculture Department and U.S. trading partners a method to distinguish the wheat trait developed to resist the company’s Roundup herbicide from varieties approved for planting and consumption.

“Our support is aimed at ensuring that the U.S. wheat industry and wheat farmers do not experience disruptions in exports,” Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of regulatory affairs, said. The company continues to believe the Oregon case was an isolated incident, according to the post.

Tests of U.S. wheat imported by Japan, South Korea and the European Union have found no evidence of the unapproved gene- altered strain discovered in Oregon in April, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today.

The case is Barnes v. Monsanto Co., 13-cv-01218, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas (Wichita).

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