Farmers sue over GM rice
2.Judge denies class-action for biotech rice suit
COMMENT by Dr. Brian John: This litigation rumbles on - and there is an interesting allegation (which will not have been made lightly) that Riceland and Bayer deliberately withheld knowledge of the contamination incident during the rice planting season. This confirms info from August 2006 (when the story broke) that Riceland and Bayer were aware of the LL601contamination in January 2006 but that the farming industry (and the rest of the world) were not informed until August, in the harvest season. That obviously resulted in huge financial loss for the farmers affected -- a loss which could have been prevented had Riceland and Bayer alerted farmers at an early stage.
1.COUNTY FARMERS SUE OVER GENETICALLY MODIFIED RICE
By Ray King/OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF
Pine Bluff Commercial, August 8 2008 http://www.pbcommercial.com/articles/2008/08/08/news/news1.txt
Four Jefferson County residents and two farms have filed a lawsuit against several chemical companies and Riceland Foods, Inc., alleging they lost money because of genetically modified rice.
Clay and Brenda Jeter, W.S. Jeter Sr., and Alan Erstine, and Jetco Farms and J&E Farms filed the lawsuit Thursday morning in Jefferson County Circuit Court against Bayer AG and a number of its subsidiaries, and Riceland Foods Inc., of Stuttgart, seeking damages for lost of income, damage to their property and equipment, including storage and transportation facilities.
The lawsuit was one of several filed Thursday by attorneys from Goldman, Pennebaker & Phipps of San Antonio and Little Rock attorney Chuck Banks in rice-growing counties in eastern and southeastern Arkansas, including Jefferson. Similar suits have also been filed in Texas and Mississippi.
The lawsuit alleges Bayer, through its companies, developed, planted and tested genetically modified rice, including a type known as Liberty Link Rice 601 (LL601), with the idea the genetically modified rice would help farmers battle problems with weeds that negatively affected their profit margins.
The lawsuit claims that from 1996 to 2001, Bayer planted and tested LL601 and other modified rice varieties, then in 2001 decided not to market LL601 because of concerns that the genetically modified rice would not be accepted by consumers in the United States and other countries.
Because rice is a cross pollinating plant, the lawsuit alleged that LL601 contaminated non-genetically modified rice, and Bayer and Riceland withheld information about the contamination until after the rice planting season in the spring of 2006.
After the information was made public in August 2006, Japan suspended imports of long-grain rice (the type planted in Arkansas) until shipments could be certified as non-genetically modified, and the European Union took the same action later in August. Other rice exporting countries such as Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iraq also banned the rice.
Last year, the lawsuit claimed that two varieties of rice popular with Arkansas farmers were found to have a genetically modified LL601 link, and “plaintiffs, like most Arkansas farmers, were unable to find enough unaffected seed and were unable to plant rice on all their available land.
“The rice that was planted was less profitable because of reduced yields and added expense in controlling weeds,” the lawsuit claimed.
The case was assigned to 2nd Division Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr.
Riceland Foods has a long established policy of not commenting on lawsuits filed against the cooperative. Riceland officials had not been served with a copy of the complaint as of Thursday.
2.Judge denies class-action for biotech rice suit
The Associated Press, August 14 2008
ST. LOUIS: A federal judge ruled Thursday that hundreds of farmers will not be able to consolidate their lawsuits against Bayer CropScience AG over the accidental release of experimental genetically engineered rice into the food supply.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry denied a motion to certify the farmers' claims into one class-action suit, saying they were too different from one another to be lumped into a single case. If the case had been certified, attorneys say thousands of farmers in rice-producing states such as Missouri and Arkansas could have joined the action.
The rice farmers are suing Bayer CropScience to recoup income they claim to have lost after the release of company's so-called Liberty Link rice into the public food supply in 2006. After the accidental contamination was announced, some foreign countries temporarily banned U.S. rice exports, drying up key foreign markets and causing the price for U.S. rice to drop.
Judge Perry said in her ruling that even if Bayer CropScience was to blame for the drop in prices, farmers in different U.S. states suffered damage that was too different to be tried in one class-action suit.
"Some plaintiffs allege that as a result of this ban, they were forced to plant alternate, lower-yield seed varieties, thereby reducing the size of their harvests," Perry wrote. "Other plaintiffs allege that they were unable to obtain any rice seed because of the ban, and had to plant different crops altogether."
Bayer CropScience said in a statement it "welcomed" the ruling.
"We believe we have acted responsibly and have complied with all relevant regulations and guidelines in our biotech rice development activities," General Counsel Bruce Mackintosh said in the statement.
The ruling does not mean farmers will stop their litigation, said Don Downing, an attorney with Gray Ritter and Graham in St. Louis who represents farmers in the case. He said his clients are considering an appeal of Perry's decision.
"I think a lot of farmers were waiting to see if a class was would be certified," Downing said. "I think now that judge Perry has declined to certify that case, then there may well be an influx of a lot more lawsuits."
Downing said all the lawsuits would not have to be tried independently, even if they were not granted class-action status. For example, farmers might choose to litigate a handful of "test cases," and then try to settle based on the verdicts in those cases.
The Liberty Link strain of rice was not considered harmful to humans, but it was not approved for human consumption by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department determined the rice likely escaped from a corporate-funded test plot at Louisiana State University, where it was grown alongside commercial varieties.
Mackintosh's statement said Bayer CropScience is ready to litigate any further cases that might arise.