UPI Farming Today

By GREGORY TEJEDA, United Press International  |  March 13, 2003 at 1:15 AM
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Appeals court gives farmers $53 million

Minnesota's Court of Appeals has upheld a jury verdict requiring a New Jersey company to pay $53 million to farmers who bought the company's herbicides at varying prices.

The appeals court this week ruled in favor of a Norman County, Minn., jury that found BASF Corp. committed consumer fraud in its sale of Poast herbicide.

That jury in 2001 determined that Poast and Poast Plus were essentially the same product, although BASF charged significantly higher prices for the latter.

"BASF concealed from farmers and state regulatory authorities that the cheaper product, sold to soybean growers, was approved by the (Environmental Protection Agency) for use on the same crops as the more expensive product sold to growers of 'minor' crops such as sunflowers, sugarbeets, potatoes, vegetables and fruits," said Minneapolis-based attorney Douglas Nill, who represented various farmers in a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends that farmers in all 50 states were affected by the marketing methods used between 1992 and 1996.

BASF's appeal of the jury verdict and financial award was rejected, despite legal briefs in support from groups such CropLife America, National Association of Manufacturers and American Chemistry Council, AEI-Brookings Joint Center of Washington, Product Liability Advisory Council, Washington Legal Foundation, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Minnesota attorney general's office and the American Sugarbeet Growers Association both filed legal briefs for the appeal in support of the farmers.

BASF officials declined comment on the ruling, other than to say they were considering further appeals to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Nill said the Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota farmers who represent their counterparts across the United States will seek a pro rata distribution of damage funds to injured farmers across the country who can be located and submit claims.

Federal officials review trade talks

Cabinet members and House Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., reviewed World Trade Organization negotiations along with free trade talks between the United States and both Singapore and Chile.

"A vibrant trade policy is important to American farmers and ranchers," Goodlatte said, following the meeting with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Zoellick.

Officials said they are concerned about the impact that World Trade Organization reforms would have on the U.S. agriculture industry, along with the status of biotechnology in relation to U.S. agricultural exports.

"We need to make sure that in future trade negotiations and current trade relationships, agriculture is ... the cornerstone of our international trade negotiations," Goodlatte said.

Lawmakers want feds to distribute funds

Four members of Congress want the Agriculture Department to allocate nearly $15 million intended to help states deal with the problem of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk populations.

Reps. Scott McInnis, Russ Feingold, Mark Green and Paul Ryan, all sent a letter this week to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, noting that money should be provided to the states now because it already has been approved by Congress.

"Funding is desperately needed to fully implement their proactive control strategies," the representatives wrote about the states in need of funding to help them prevent spread of the disease, which can kill off animal populations.

New enzyme could change cheese taste

University of Wisconsin at Madison researchers have found an enzyme that can reduce the bitter taste of low-grade cheddar cheeses.

Food science professor Jim Steele told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the enzyme could help increase the amount of cheddar cheese that can actually be sold to the public for consumption.

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association officials say it also would help reduce the costs associated with their industry if they could better control the output of their product.

Activists to protest Kraft

Consumer activists will protest against what they say is Kraft Foods production of genetically modified food products.

Activists with the Public Interest Research Group and Genewise plan to picket outside a supermarket in Winnetka, Ill., a Chicago suburb where Kraft CEO Betsey Holden lives.

Activists plan to point out the various food products that contain ingredients from genetically modified crops. They say there has not been ample testing to show that such foods are safe for human consumption.

Grains down on CBOT

Grain futures were mostly lower at the close Wednesday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Soybeans fell on beliefs Tuesday price gains were overdone.

Corn rose on a lack of negative information.

Wheat fell on weak export figures.

Oats were lower.

The prices:

Soybeans: Mar 5.66 3/4 off 5 1/4, May 5.65 1/2 off 6, Jul 5.63 1/2 off 6 3/4, Aug 5.52 1/2 off 6 1/2.

Corn: Mar 2.37 1/2 up 1 1/2, May 2.35 1/2 up 1/2, Jul 2.36 1/2 unch, Sep 2.37 1/4 up 3/4.

Wheat: Mar 3.06 1/2 off 3 1/2, May 2.99 1/4 off 3 3/4, Jul 2.97 3/4 off 3 1/4, Sep 3.02 off 3 1/4.

Oats: Mar 2.17 1/2 up 1/4, May 1.82 off 2 3/4, Jul 1.69 3/4 off 2, Sep 1.56 off 4.

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