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Bayer Faces More Lawsuits Over GMO Rice

Date: 30-Aug-06
Country: US
Author: Lisa Haarlander

Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG, now faces a total of three lawsuits seeking damages to compensate farmers for falling rice prices.

The US Agriculture Department announced Aug. 18 that trace amounts of an unapproved GMO variety engineered by Bayer CropScience were found in rice storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

USDA said there was no health or environmental risk. But Japan has suspended imports of US long grain rice and the 25-nation European Union will allow into its stores only long grain rice that is certified free of the unapproved strain.

The latest lawsuit was filed on Tuesday morning in Lonoke County Courthouse in Lonoke, Arkansas, on behalf of 20 rice farmers, said Janet Keller, spokeswoman for the law firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell and Newton LLP, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama.

Arkansas is the top rice producing state in the United States and its farmers have just begun harvesting the crop.

The latest suit seeks US$275,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages, Keller said.

"We fully anticipate more farmers to become involved," she said.

Bayer CropScience does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Greg Coffey.

Since the announcement of the contamination, rice futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have fallen about 85 cents per hundredweight, or about 9 percent, on worries that exports would be affected.

The two other lawsuits, each seeking class-action status, were filed on Monday against Bayer CropScience.

One lawsuit was brought by Lonnie and Linda Parson, rice farmers in Arkansas. It was filed by Emerson Poynter LLP in US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Damages were not specified.

Another was brought by Geeridge Farm Inc. and George Watson and was filed by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll in US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The tainting of rice supplies reminded many traders of an incident in the fall of 2000, when a biotech corn called StarLink, approved for use only as animal feed, was found in the food chain. This sparked a nationwide recall of taco shells and corn products foods from grocery shelves.

The incident lead to a class-action lawsuit, which was settled for US$110 million plus interest to farmers whose crops were tainted with StarLink corn, or who suffered from a drop in corn prices due to the controversy over gene-spliced StarLink corn.

The Cohen firm represented farmers in the StarLink case.

US officials are still investigating how the biotech rice ended up in the commercial supply.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop this year valued at around US$1.9 billion.

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