By Amanda Bronstad
Monsanto Co. has agreed to settle lawsuits by U.S. farmers who alleged they lost money after the company contaminated their wheat fields when a genetically modified strand was discovered in Oregon.
More than a dozen class actions resulted after a farmer made the discovery last year, prompting Japan and South Korea to immediately suspend imports of soft-white wheat from the United States. Grain futures prices also fell. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not approved genetically modified wheat for commercial use.
On Friday, lawyers for the soft-white wheat farmers, who sued for economic losses, told a federal judge in Kansas that they had reached a settlement, the terms of which they didn't disclose.
James Pizzirusso, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Hausfeld, chairman of the interim co-lead counsel team for the soft-white wheat farmers, declined to comment, saying the settlement wasn’t final. In March, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil ordered both sides to mediation.
Lawyers for additional farmers, who sued for losses to the overall wheat market, were scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Patrick Pendley, senior partner at Plaquemine, La.’s Pendley Baudin & Coffin, who represents those farmers, said he hoped Monsanto would address their cases soon now that a settlement has been reached with soft-white wheat farmers.
“We have not been in any mediations or discussion with Monsanto since April,” said Pendley, who added he planned to meet with Monsanto attorneys in advance of Tuesday’s hearing. “Obviously, to talk about what’s to be done with our cases,” he said.
Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher did not respond to a request for comment. Monsanto attorney Edward Duckers, head of the litigation practice at Stoel Rives in San Francisco, declined to comment.
Monsanto, which field-tested genetically modified wheat about a decade ago, has denied wrongdoing and called the Oregon strand an isolated incident.