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Monsanto Set to Settle GMO Wheat Cases

Lauren Tucker/Flickr

Monsanto has agreed to settle some of the lawsuits brought by U.S. farmers who allege they lost money when an Oregon field was discovered to have been contaminated with an experimental genetically modified strain of wheat.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States is genetically modified, but GMO wheat has never been approved for farming.

Any damages claimed would have to be a temporary loss of markets.

But in May 2013, the Agriculture Department announced that plant samples from a wheat field in Oregon indicated the presence of wheat that had been genetically modified to be resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate. That prompted Japan to halt imports of white wheat and South Korean millers to suspend purchases of the grain.

American farmers sell much of their wheat overseas, so when the international disturbance sank U.S. wheat prices, it affected farmers all over the country. In the aftermath, farmers sued Monsanto, alleging that the company was at fault for farmers’ price losses. A number of anti-GMO activist groups, like the Center for Food Safety, also sued.

In the wake of the disruption, overseas buyers came back to U.S. growers and prices eventually rebounded. The incident was merely a temporary interruption in wheat trade, said Jay O’Neil, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.

“Any damages claimed would have to be a temporary loss of markets,” O’Neil said.

Lawyers for a contingent of soft-white wheat farmers told a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday that they had reached a settlement. While terms of the settlement were not disclosed, details may be disclosed at a court hearing Tuesday.

The case is far from over. Lawyers for other farmers, including many who grow hard red winter wheat in the Midwest, are also due to appear at the hearing Tuesday. 

KCUR’s Frank Morris and Dan Margolies contributed to this report.