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.
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.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Bayer to pay $750M in genetic rice settlement
By Jeannie Nuss
July 1, 2011
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas - German conglomerate Bayer CropScience agreed Friday to pay up to $750 million to settle several lawsuits with U.S. farmers who claimed a strain of the company’s unapproved genetically modified rice contaminated the food supply and hurt their crop prices.
The litigation goes back to 2006, when Bayer disclosed that an experimental strain of genetically altered rice was found in U.S. food supplies. No human health problems have been associated with the contamination, but that wasn’t known at the time.
“Back in 2006, this rice had not been approved for human consumption,” said Don Downing, a St. Louis-based attorney who represents some of the farmers who sued.
The fear that the rice was unsafe, along with the notion that genetically altered rice was somehow impure, quashed sales in major markets including the European Union, which has tight restrictions on genetically modified crops.
So, farmers from Arkansas, which produces about half of the nation’s rice, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, sued Bayer, saying the accident closed off critical export markets and caused the price of rice to drop.
The settlement reached Friday will extend to all U.S. farmers who planted long-grain rice between 2006 and 2010.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Rice farmers settle with Bayer
St. Louis Business Journal
January 14, 2011
Four Mississippi rice farmers reached an agreement Friday with Bayer to settle their genetically modified rice claims for $873,000.
The trial was supposed to start Tuesday in federal court in St. Louis.
Don Downing, of the St. Louis law firm Gray, Ritter & Graham, helped represent the farmers, who will receive an average settlement amount of more than $300 per acre.
This case is part of a series of similar bellwether trials Downing’s involved in against Germany-based Bayer Cropscience AG. So far, Downing has collected $53 million in damages for his farmer clients.
The settlement reached Friday calls for the potential for a larger amount if a later global settlement of all such claims is more favorable to the farmers.
The suit was brought on behalf of the farmers who said they suffered economic damages since 2006 from contamination of their crops by an unapproved genetically modified strain of rice seed produced by Bayer. The discovery of the contamination led to a dramatic drop in U.S. rice prices, as the European Union stopped purchasing the U.S. rice.
The plaintiffs in the case are Byrd Farms Partnership, of Sunflower, Miss.; Rizzo Farms Joint Venture, of Cleveland, Miss.; Peter Dulaney Farms, of Tunica, Miss.; and Pongetti Farms Partnership, in Shelby, Miss.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry ordered a series of bellwether or test trials involving rice farmers who claimed similar economic damages caused by Bayer.
Six previous cases — including three bellwether trials in federal court and three trials in state court in Arkansas — have gone to trial and each resulted in substantial jury verdicts for the plaintiff farmers. Two of the juries awarded punitive damages against Bayer.
This is the second case brought by farmers that has been settled. A similar case brought by three Texas rice farmers was settled in October of last year. More than 8,000 plaintiffs have sued Bayer over its contamination of the U.S. rice supply by unapproved genetically modified rice.