Please scroll down for a 6/8 update.
One of the things I like about blogging is that I don’t have to be a purist when it comes to reporting. The last time I wrote about GM wheat found in Oregon, I summarized what I’d learned from several articles. I stuck with the facts as I understood them and didn’t pontificate until the last paragraph. Today I’m going to introduce a few new pieces of information – then pontificate like crazy.
I’d like to clarify why my interest in this wheat saga is high:
1. I love Oregon like I love my house. I love to travel and could live anywhere in the world but Oregon will always be home.
2. I am obsessed with all things GE and biotech right now, especially as it pertains to Big Ag and food.
3. I have family who farms wheat in the area where this happened which makes the whole thing feel a bit more pressing than it probably would have otherwise.
If you are unfamiliar with this ongoing story, please read this recent summary. In this post, I am mostly going to focus on the recent lawsuit filed by a Kansas farmer against Monsanto for gross negligence as a result of the mystery wheat found in Oregon. And as of this writing Thursday evening, news has broken that the Center For Food Safety and several Washington farmers have formed a class action lawsuit also against Monsanto – but filed in Spokane. The second claim cites damage of sale of exports.
Let me set up the scenario: Unusual volunteer wheat plants show up in a small 123-acre eastern Oregon wheat farm and after testing are confirmed to be Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready plants. Japan and other Asian nations will not accept GM wheat so Japan cancels large shipment of wheat out of Port of Portland. South Korea and other nations conduct stringent tests to find GM contamination but tests reveal no contamination. Kansas farmer files a lawsuit against Monsanto. A few days later, several Washington farmers and the Center for Food Safety do the same.
Let’s get to some details about this litigation. According to my sources, the Kansas plaintiff, Ernest Barnes, seeks unspecified damages to be determined at trial, based on the fact that the alleged gross negligence has resulted in wheat prices being driven down and some international markets suspending certain imports. The lawyer who serves as spokesperson for this case, Warren Burns, is said to be looking at a scope of real damages in the hundreds of millions. He apparently wants to make sure his client is justly compensated for his troubles. It has also been reported that he thinks this rogue GM wheat will start popping up in all 16 states where field testing of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready product concluded a decade or so ago. Burns calls it “the tip of the iceberg.” He adds, “A tremendous amount of harm has fallen on Kansas and Kansas farms.”
As for the Washington portion of this lawsuit, all that I have found cited as a reason for the lawsuit was damage to export markets. (Read lawsuit here.) One of the farmers involved in the lawsuit, Tom Stahl, said, as quoted in OregonLive, “We farmers cannot stand idly by while companies like Monsanto destroy our export markets and our economy.”
Both Tom Stahl and the Center For Food Safety have publicly expressed opposition to GMOs.
FYI: If you’d like to know the 16 states involved in field testing, here they are, in alpha order: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. 100 field tests were legally conducted with rigorous, government directed protocols followed during the closing out process. Having this GM wheat show up out of the blue is baffling to all parties involved.
I can see the gaggle of eager-beaver attorneys salivating right now, but have they jumped the gun?
Not surprisingly, Monsanto has a different take, as reported in the Oregonian. “Tractor-chasing lawyers have prematurely filed suit without any evidence of fault and in advance of the crop’s harvest,” says David Snively, Monsanto executive vice president and general counsel. Sabotage has not been ruled out.
Sabotage. I used that word in a post three days ago. This whole thing reeks of foul play to me. How else can it be explained? If not foul play, then somebody really screwed up. I know there are a lot of folks out there who would not shed any tears over piles of court papers with Monsanto’s name on them and if this case and others like it do turn out to be winners, all the better for Monsanto haters. I don’t feel that way at all. I just want to know what happened.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Are there real monetary damages yet? Is Japan’s suspension and cancellation of the wheat shipment temporary? Will wheat futures recover? And of course the most important question: will any more rogue GM wheat be discovered? Monsanto claims no legal liability and promises a vigorous defense.
From what I’ve been able to observe via a few emails back and forth, my relatives who farm wheat are taking a prudent “wait and see” approach. The panic button has not been pressed and I get the general feeling they are optimistic that this will sort itself out. I was even invited to visit during harvest and chat about the meticulous process of choosing seeds for wheat cultivation. Pretty much “business as usual” behavior if you ask me.
Burns was quoted in the Oregonian as saying that the case “looks and smells” like the litigation of 2011 whereby Bayer CropScience, a German conglomerate, ponied up $750 million to settle claims when genetically modified rice contamination was discovered and in similar fashion, affected futures markets and exports. (Read Bloomberg article about LibertyLink rice case.) It should be noted that the GM rice contamination was much more wide spread than what has been discovered so far with the GM wheat.
Of course, more will be revealed.
Update as of Saturday 6/8: I received an email from my contact in the Pendleton, Oregon area stating that the APHIS (Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the USDA) team of investigators stopped by their farm and asked about any signs of Roundup resistant plants. The answer was an emphatic “no” with a qualifying statement that clean fields were a top priority and the observation would have been made immediately had their been any suspect plants.
On the lighter side, a discussion then ensued about about good fishing in the area, which there is plenty of as beautiful Wallowa Lake and mountains are just east of La Grande (see map below). Apparently, the APHIS folks are a friendly bunch and wanted something to do over the weekend 🙂
With all this negative publicity Oregon has been getting I have to step up and say that 14 summers ago, I rode Cycle Oregon, a week long bike ride through stunningly beautiful areas of Oregon, a different one every year. That year it was through the Wallowas, sometimes referred to as the “Alps” of Oregon, situated between the Blue Mountains to the west and the Snake River to the east. I have never seen more pristine country.
Photo Credit: R.U.P.A.K – A.N.T.O ~~/Flickr