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DOJ Urged to Complete Monsanto Case

Top Democratic lawmakers on Monday urged the Department of Justice to "expeditiously complete" its antitrust investigation into Monsanto, injecting a dose of politics into what could become the Obama administration's most significant competition case.

Monsanto has been under scrutiny by antitrust officials at the DoJ since October last year. At the centre of the investigation are questions about whether the St Louis-based maker of genetically modified seeds has legally used its cutting-edge technology to become a dominant force in the agricultural industry, or whether it has illegally used patent protections to engage in anti-competitive behaviour.

If the DoJ decides to bring a case against the company, it could rival the Clinton administration's landmark case against Microsoft, legal experts say. Lobbyists for farming interests and Monsanto's corporate rivals have encouraged the DoJ to examine the company's patent for a biotech trait known as Roundup Ready, a blockbuster soyabean prodwct that is set to expire in 2014.

At the heart of the DoJ probe are questions about whether Monsanto is prepared to make Roundup available to farmers and competitors once the product's patent expires. The company on Monday said the DoJ was in the process of reviewing information provided by Monsanto. The comment indicated that the DoJ has not yet formally indicated whether it is likely to pursue a case.

Democratic lawmakers on Monday urged the DoJ to speed up their probe. Four senators led by Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, said in a letter to Christine Varney, the head of the DoJ's antitrust division, that the swift conclusion of the department's investigation would be "vital" to the emergence of generic versions of Roundup.