GM firms are sued for millions

A A A

Top law firms in the United States and Britain are to launch a series of class actions next month in which they will demand "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages from the principal companies involved in the production of genetically modified (GM) seeds and food crops.

Top law firms in the United States and Britain are to launch a series of class actions next month in which they will demand "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages from the principal companies involved in the production of genetically modified (GM) seeds and food crops.

Targets of the actions, which are to be taken on behalf of farmers in the United States, the European Union, Central America and India, are likely to include Monsanto, Du Pont, AstraZeneca, Novartis and Agr-Evo.

In a private meeting in London this week, American lawyers and senior partners at the British law firm Mishcon de Reya discussed the action with representatives of the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Christian Aid, the Confederation of European Small Farmers (CPE), individual farmers and farmers' organisations from the US, Panama, and India.

The first of the actions will be launched in US courts in mid-November. They will allege "anti-competitive behaviour" in the seed market, which is dominated by a small number of companies, in violation of "anti-trust" or monopoly laws. They will also cite "questionable corporate behaviour" in pushing forward the rapid introduction of GM foods in the absence of clear data to prove their safety.

"There is the question of whether there is a collusive aspect of the behaviour of the companies to co-ordinate a joint control of over the entirety of food production," said Michael Hausfeld of the Washington DC-based lawyers Cohen, Millstein, Hausfeld and Toll (CMHT), who was at the meeting.

"And there is the question of whether or not there was a concerted effort to knowingly but prematurely force the commercialisation of GM foods when there was information that the companies knew, or should have known, that the safety of the foods was inconclusive. This would include charges of possible undue influence on legislators and regulators," Mr Hausfeld said.

As well as seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, Mr Hausfeld indicated, his clients also wished to put the deployment of GM foods on hold until their safety was scientifically proven, and to establish legal liability where farmers were burdened with unmarketable crops that were either grown from GM seed or contaminated with GM material from neighbouring fields.

One key issue will be the principle, backed by the US government, that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to non-GM foods and consequently do not need to be tested for their safety. The idea has now been challenged by numerous scientists who say that experiments that would justify the "substantial equivalence" of GM foods have not been done.

CMHT has participated in recent anti-trust actions that have won damages exceeding $1bn. These include a case brought against market makers on the Nasdaq stock exchange which won a record $1,027m (£622m) in damages. Another action, over price-fixing, is underway against the chemical companies Hoffman La Roche, Rhone Poulenc and BASF,.

Following the launch of the US cases, further actions are planned under competition law, Mishcon de Reya said. Michael Cover, one of the firm's partners, said: "Our main focus will be to seek damages under UK and EU competition law. We will specifically be looking at agreements to conduct anti-competitive practices and abuse of dominant positions in the market place, forbidden under articles 81 and 82 of the Amsterdam Treaty [which came into force this year]."

The news comes at an increasingly difficult time for GM companies, which have suffered in the public relations war between corporations and environmental groups. Last week, it was reported that Monsanto was coming under intense pressure to shed parts of its organisation in the wake of the campaign against GM foods, following a drop in share prices.

Mishcon de Reya and the 10 US law firms involved will be taking the actions forward on a "no-win, no-fee" basis on behalf of both citizens' organisations and individuals. The names of the plaintiffs in the actions have not been revealed.

Adrian Bebb, representing the campaign group Friends of the Earth at the meeting, said: "We are looking very closely at the prospect of becoming involved in this legal action at a European level and we will be helping the American lawyers with any information they require for their actions in the US and other countries."

Andrew Simms, agriculture campaigner for the charity Christian Aid, said: "These legal actions are very exciting and interesting ... they are refocusing the GM debate on the core questions of corporate power and control. We want to give power and control back to the people who are going hungry."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project