Friday, December 16, 2011
Bayer: Threshold met for rice settlement
By Jeannie Nuss
December 16, 2011
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Rice growers met a threshold to move forward with a $750 million settlement over genetically modified rice, the company blamed for the problem said Thursday.
Bayer CropScience had agreed to the settlement this summer, five years after the company inadvertently introduced a strain of genetically altered long-grain rice into the U.S. market. As part of the settlement, Bayer set a threshold of 85 percent of rice acreage involved and could have opted out of the deal if not enough farmers signed up.
“Although Bayer CropScience believes it acted responsibly in the handling of its biotech rice, the company considered it important to resolve the litigation so that it can move forward focused on its fundamental mission of providing innovative solutions to modern agriculture,” spokesman Greg Coffey said in a statement.
Farmers in Arkansas — where about half of the nation’s rice is grown — as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas sued Bayer after the German conglomerate developed an experimental strain of rice called LibertyLink to withstand its Liberty herbicide. U.S. regulators had not yet approved it for human consumption when trace amounts were found with conventional rice seed in storage.
No human health problems have been associated with the contamination, but that wasn’t known at the time.
The fear that the rice was unsafe, along with the notion that genetically altered rice was somehow impure, quashed sales in major markets. The mistake also left growers with huge losses as prices fell.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
USDA claims ‘hands were tied’ in biotech approval
By Mateusz Perkowski
December 13, 2011
The USDA’s authority over genetically engineered crops was a top subject during recent oral arguments in a lawsuit over biotech alfalfa.
Attorneys for the agency repeatedly argued that its authority was limited, claiming “its hands were tied” in deciding to re-commercialize the crop, which can withstand glyphosate herbicides.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, had to base its decision on whether transgenic Roundup Ready alfalfa posed a plant pest risk, similarly to a virus or bacteria, attorneys said.
“In other words, APHIS is not the policy decision-maker in Congress’ stead to decide whether, as a matter of market preference, organic crops, conventional crops or indeed genetically engineered crops should dominate,” said Eric Womack, an attorney for the agency.
The USDA fully deregulated biotech alfalfa in early 2011 after completing a court-ordered environmental review of the crop. In 2007, a federal judge had overturned the agency’s previous approval of the crop.
The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit critical of transgenic crops, filed a lawsuit against the USDA, claiming that Roundup Ready alfalfa was deregulated in violation of administrative and environmental laws.
The group fears biotech alfalfa will cross-pollinate with organic and conventional crops, among other issues.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Arkansas court affirms $50M verdict for rice farmers
By Jeannie Nuss
December 08, 2011
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed a nearly $50 million verdict for farmers who say they lost money because a company’s genetically altered rice seeds contaminated the food supply and drove down crop prices.
Bayer, the German conglomerate whose Bayer CropScience subsidiary produced the seeds, had argued that Arkansas tort laws set a limit on punitive damages and that courts should set aside jury awards that “shock the conscience.” In the April 2010 verdict, a Lonoke County jury awarded $42 million in punitive damages and $5.9 million in actual damages.
The company said a lower court erred last year in ruling that a cap on punitive damages is unconstitutional.
But in its 24-page opinion released Thursday, the state Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that the cap on punitive damages was unconstitutional. Associate Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson wrote that the cap “limits the amount of recovery outside the employment relationship,” while the Arkansas constitution only allows limits on compensation paid by employers to employees.
The latest decision comes years after Bayer developed an experimental strain of rice called LibertyLink to withstand its Liberty herbicide. Federal regulators had not yet approved it for human consumption when trace amounts were found mixed with conventional rice seed in storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Maine farmer heads group challenging genetics giant Monsanto
By Avery Yale Kamila
Portland Press Herald
November 10, 2011
A fight to maintain consumer choice and farm independence has landed Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen on Utne Reader’s list of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” published in the November/December edition of the magazine on newsstands now.
Organic seed potato farmer Jim Gerritsen heads a trade association that is suing chemical giant Monsanto. (photo: Charlotte Hedley ) Gerritsen, wife Megan, and their four children run the Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, which produces and sells organic seed potatoes to kitchen gardeners and market farmers in all 50 states. Gerritsen is also president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and it was that role that led to the Utne recognition.
The nonprofit organization created a stir in food and farming communities when, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, it filed a lawsuit in March against the chemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto. OSGATA has since been joined in the lawsuit by 82 other seed businesses, trade organizations and family farmers, which together represent more than 270,000 people.
The lawsuit questions the validity of Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds, and seeks protection from patent-infringement lawsuits for the plaintiffs should their crops become contaminated with Monsanto’s transgenic crops.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Court loss won’t stop environmentalists’ battle against modified-eucalyptus trees
By Peter Downs
The Commercial Appeal
October 23, 2011
Environmentalists are vowing to continue their fight against genetically engineered “frankentrees” after losing a test case in Florida earlier this month.
“We’re not terribly discouraged,” said Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and the coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign.
“We’ll wait until the next stage of the regulatory process and intervene there,” said Mike Stark, communications director for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that aimed to block field tests of genetically modified eucalyptus trees across the South.
The trees in question were developed by Arborgen, a joint venture of Memphis-based International Paper, MeadWestvaco Corp. and New Zealand-based Rubicon Ltd.
Industry expects the fight to continue.