Several farmers and biotech developer Monsanto have made “some progress” in negotiations to settle lawsuits over an unauthorized release of genetically engineered wheat last year.
The parties’ actions indicate there’s a strong chance they will reach a settlement deal, said Nancy Welsh, a law professor at Penn State University who specializes in mediation.
“All the signals are very positive,” said Welsh.
Last May, the USDA announced that an Oregon farmer had found wheat in his field that was genetically engineered by Monsanto to withstand glyphosate herbicides.
The wheat variety was never deregulated for commercial production by USDA, which is continuing to investigate the release.
Exports of soft white wheat to Japan and South Korea were temporarily suspended due to the discovery.
As a result, farmers in several states filed legal complaints accusing Monsanto of negligence in its field trials for the crop.
Attorneys for the farmers and Monsanto put the litigation on hiatus in March and agreed to enter mediation.
After an initial mediation session before a retired judge in California on April 11, the parties asked a federal judge to postpone a hearing and continue to stay the litigation.
The parties have made “some progress” and negotiations are continuing under the retired judge’s supervision, according to a court document filed by both sides.
The fact that Monsanto and the farmers entered mediation voluntarily and want to keep talking show there are serious prospects for a deal, said Welsh.
Mediation allows litigants to speak with each other confidentially and avoid having the information become public, as it would in court, she said.
If they do reach a deal, it’s likely that sensitive information will remain private instead of being made public during the discovery process, Welsh said.
That’s significant in this case due to the possibility that the identity of the farmer who found the biotech wheat would be revealed.
However, in class action lawsuits, settlements must be approved by a federal judge, who could theoretically require the parties to disclose additional information, said Welsh.
Attorneys involved in the mediation said they could not comment on the confidential negotiations.