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It's official, Saskatchewan organic growers are suing Monsanto, Aventis over GM contamination

(January 10, 2002 – CropChoice news) – Members of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate today at a news conference officially launched a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto and Aventis for introducing transgenic canola into the environment. That, they say, led to widespread genetic contamination that makes it impossible to organically grow canola. Organic standards disallow any presence of genetically modified organisms. See October CropChoice background story at http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=499

"The right to farm gmo-free and the right to eat gmo-free, that is what’s at stake here," said Marc Loiselle, an organic farmer and SOD board member. Approximately 1,000 farmers in Saskatchewan grow crops organically on about 1 million acres. Another 200 farmers are transitioning to organic methods.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages "in the millions of Canadian dollars," for what they see as Monsanto's and Aventis' failure to take responsibility for transgenic contamination on multiple grounds. Those include negligence, nuisance, trespass, pollution under the Saskatchewan Environmental Management and Protection Act and failure to conduct an environmental assessment and seek ministerial approval as required by the Environmental Assessment Act of Saskatchewan. The plaintiffs will also seek an injunction to halt Monsanto from introducing Roundup Ready wheat, engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).

If the action is certified as a class action by the Court under Saskatchewan's recently enacted Class Actions Act, all certified organic farmers in Saskatchewan will be represented, with the possibility that other Canadian certified organic grain farmers residing outside Saskatchewan being given the option of participating at a later date.

Terry Zakreski, legal counsel representing the plaintiffs, said that the next significant step in the process is to request that the Court certify the action as a class action under the Act, which he anticipates will take place within a few months.

Growing and certifying organic canola in Canada is nearly impossible for two reasons, said farmer and SOD president Arnold Taylor. The spread of the genetics from Roundup Ready canola since its introduction in 1996-97 has made obtaining pure seed difficult. And even if a farmer could manage to do so, cross-pollination happens easily in the field.

The loss of the canola market has hurt, but, said Loiselle, transgenic wheat would be the mortal blow not only to organic growers but all farmers.

The Canadian Wheat Board, which is responsible for all wheat and barley exports, sells wheat, durum and barley to more than 70 countries. According to the Board’s website, www.cwb.ca, that translates into about 20 percent of the world market share in wheat, 65 per cent of durum wheat, 30 per cent of malting barley and 15 per cent of feed barley.

Many of those 70 countries have said they will reject Roundup Ready wheat or any wheat showing signs of transgenic contamination, said Bill Toews, a Manitoba commercial grower of wheat, canola, flax, barley and oats. If that happens, farmers could lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Organic Agriculture Protection Fund has raised enough money to begin the lawsuit, Loiselle and Taylor said, although they would not specify the amount raised.

For more information, visit http://www.saskorganic.com