Litigation against Monsanto is on hiatus as farmers and the company try to settle lawsuits over the unauthorized release of biotech wheat.
Multiple farmers from around the country filed complaints against Monsanto, claiming the biotech developer negligently allowed the restricted crop to escape during field trials.
Last year, “volunteer” wheat plants that sprouted in an eastern Oregon field were found to be genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicides.
The biotech variety was developed by Monsanto but never deregulated by USDA. Its discovery led to a temporary suspension of soft white wheat exports to Japan and South Korea.
As an investigation by USDA continues, several farmer lawsuits sought compensation from Monsanto for a drop in wheat prices and the loss of export markets.
Those lawsuits were consolidated before a federal judge in Kansas who recently agreed to stay the proceedings while Monsanto and the growers enter mediation.
The initial mediation session is set for April 11 before a retired judge in Newport Beach, Calif.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil, who is overseeing the consolidated case in Kansas, said the parties “agreed to a tight and aggressive timeline” and noted the mediation should help “in identifying and narrowing the issues” even if a settlement isn’t reached.
“Monsanto welcomes the court’s direction to pursue mediation and the opportunity to work with plaintiffs to resolve this matter,” said Kyle McClain, the company’s chief litigation counsel, in an email.
The initial mediation session will last about 10 hours but it’s unknown what will happen afterward, said Kim Stephens, a lead attorney for the farmers.
Sometimes a rough settlement outline can be reached in such an initial session, while in other cases the talks are scuttled, he said.
“I think it’s encouraging both sides are willing to talk early about resolving their differences,” said Stephens.
Mediation helps both the plaintiffs and defendants understand the risks of moving forward with the litigation, he said.
Unlike arbitration, the mediation process doesn’t bind the parties to any resolution, he said. “It doesn’t mean the lawsuit is going away.”