More Cases To Come
It is the first in a series of test cases challenging the promises of agricultural biotechnology.
Bayer CropScience LP must pay about $2 million to two Missouri farmers after an experimental genetically engineered variety of rice, called LibertyLink, contaminated their crops.
The federal case has been in a St. Louis court for about a month and, in a broad sense, represents every farmer in America who has had their crops contaminated by the novel proteins of experimental and unapproved agricultural products derived from genetic engineering (GE), also known as genetically modified organisms (GMO).
In this case LibertyLink rice, or LLRICE601, is created by crossing the DNA of plant with a bacterial containing gene that causes the rice to produce a protein that makes it resistant to a Bayer's herbicide.
Bayer owns the seeds, sells it to farmers under strict user agreements. Then Bayer’s herbicide is used exclusively to douse the field, leaving only the GMO plant standing.
The rice variety was not approved for human consumption when from 1998 to 2001 Bayer grew the GE rice in test fields with Louisiana State University.
Winds and a failure to segregate seeds and plants eventually cause the GMO to drift into nearby fields in Crowley, Louisiana. LLRICE601 eventually contaminated more than 30 percent of U.S. rice lands in 2006, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
More than 1.000 similar cases have been filed against Bayer.
Japan, Russia, and the European Union have strict limits on U.S. rice imports. The EU requires long-grain rice from the U.S. be certified GMO-free.
When the USDA found the GE rice in the food chain in 2006, rice futures plunged and cost U.S. farmers about $150 million, according to a consolidated complaint. The USDA deregulated LLRICE 601 in November 2006, but it is not sold commercially.
The $2 million jury award was only for compensatory damages since jurors decided that Bayer had been lax in its handling of the experimental seed.
One lawyer representing the plaintiffs told jurors that $80 million in punitive damages would not be too much to send a message, reports Bloomberg, but punitive damages were not awarded. Jurors said it hadn’t been proven that Bayer did the contamination on purpose.
November 2006, the USDA deregulated Liberty Link rice, also known as LLRICE601, though it was not approved to develop commercially for human consumption.
The next in a line of litigation will involve farmers from Arkansas and Mississippi and is scheduled to start January 11 in St. Louis.
The case is reminiscent of a similar GMO contamination settlement involving corn.
In the fall of 2000, GMO corn "StarLink” was approved for use as animal feed but found its way into the human food chain after a failure to segregate seeds.
Corn products, such as taco shells, had to be recalled from store shelves and a class-action was settled for $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. #