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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawsuit Alleges Monsanto Conspiracy

WASHINGTON -- Opponents of genetically engineered food are trying a new tactic to curb the spread of biotech crops f a lawsuit that accuses Monsanto Co. of conspiring to control the world's seed trade.

The class-action suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of six farmers, also accuses Monsanto and other seed companies of rushing crops to market without adequately studying their effects on health and the environment.

Companion lawsuits are being considered in several foreign countries, including Britain and India, said Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney in the case.

Jeremy Rifkin, a prominent anti-biotech activist who recruited a team of nine law firms to handle the suit, said he wants to "refocus the global debate" over genetic engineering to "corporate abuse of power" by the companies that developed the crops.

Corn and soybeans genetically designed to kill pests or withstand herbicides have become widely popular in the United States, but have met consumer resistance in Europe and Asia. Genetic engineering involves splicing a single gene from one organism to another.

Until now, biotech opponents have focused their efforts on persuading food manufacturers not to buy genetically modified crops and getting governments to require the labeling of altered foods.

The suit alleges that Monsanto, using its biotechnology patents, coordinated with other biotech companies such as DuPont to fix prices and force farmers into using genetically engineered seed. It also alleges there is "substantial uncertainty" as to whether the crops are safe.

The companies control the spread of the technology by patenting the seeds and then leasing them to growers, rather than selling them, to prevent the farmers from reproducing the seeds.

Monsanto officials denounced the lawsuit as a political stunt and predicted it would be thrown out of court.

"This technology has been tested for many years and it's subject to intense regulation. ? We would not put into commerce anything that we're not absolutely confident is safe and effective," Monsanto attorney Dan Snively said.

An estimated 57 percent of the soybeans grown this year in America contain a gene that allows them to tolerate use of Monsanto's popular Roundup weed killer. Thirty percent of the corn grown this year was engineered to make it toxic to the European corn borer, a chronic problem for farmers.

The government insists the crops pose no threat to humans or the environment.

Advocates say biotechnology has vast potential for developing crops that are more nutritious, need less water and have a variety of new uses, such as bananas that would inoculate children in developing countries against diseases.

Critics of the technology say too little is known about possible allergens and its impact on the environment, including the emergence of "superweeds" from genetically engineered crops.