Bayer Settles Texas Suits Alleging Its GM Seed Contaminated Rice Fields

Oct 19, 2010 - A Bayer AG unit settled a lawsuit brought by three Texas growers over claims its genetically engineered seed contaminated U.S. long-grain rice fields, causing a plunge in exports to Europe.
The settlement was reached Oct. 15 after three days of trial in federal court in St. Louis and announced to the judge over the weekend, said attorney Don Downing, who represents the Texas rice farmers. The settlement only covers claims by the growers in trial and doesn’t affect more than 6,000 other claims, Downing said in an interview today.
“It’s an historic event,” Downing said. “It’s the first time there has been a settlement in a farmers’ case” against Bayer involving contaminated rice, he said.
Farmers in five states claim Bayer negligently contaminated the U.S. long-grain rice crop with its genetically modified LibertyLink seed, leading to export restrictions, bans on two kinds of high-yield seeds and a plunge in prices. Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, denies negligence and disputes the damages claims, contending that rice sales rebounded after an initial drop.
The Texas trial was the seventh against Bayer in the genetically modified rice litigation. Bayer lost the first six, for a total of about $54 million. The company is challenging the verdicts in appeals and post-trial motions.
“Bayer CropScience has always been willing to settle such biotech rice litigation cases on reasonable terms and is pleased to be able to do so in this instance,” CropScience Chief Executive Officer Bill Buckner said in an e-mailed statement. The company said it would continue mediation over the claims by the remaining plaintiffs.

‘Small Farmers’
The three Texas growers were seeking $430,000 in damages, plus unspecified punitive damages, Downing said. They settled for $290,000, he said.
“These are relatively small farmers with relatively small acreage,” he said.
The plaintiffs are John Gaulding and John Donaho, partners in the Gaulding farm in Winnie, Texas; James Gentz Jr. and Carol Barton Gentz, who also have a farm in Winnie; and Lee and Robbie Hafernick, owners of an operation in Edna, Texas. Winnie and Edna are near Houston.
Bayer lost the first three trials in federal court, one for about $2 million in December, another in February for about $1.5 million, and the third, for about $500,000 in July.
Bayer also lost the first three trials in state court, all in Arkansas. The first of those trials ended in a jury verdict of about $1 million, including $500,000 in punitive damages. The second resulted in a verdict of almost $48 million, with a punitive award of $42 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The third, for about $950,000 in July, didn’t include punitive damages, Coffey said last week.
The federal case is In re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 06-md-1811, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15.07.2010


A federal jury in St. Louis awarded $500,248 on Wednesday to a farmer who claimed that he and his family had lost just over $1.5 million when genetically modified rice contaminated the U.S. rice supply.

The trial, which lasted more than three weeks, is the fifth trial in federal and state courts in which farmers have been awarded damages. In all, hundreds of lawsuits filed by thousands of farmers and others against Bayer CropScience have alleged that the release of LibertyLink, a herbicide-resistant rice, into the rice supply cost farmers millions.

The release was announced in August 2006, before the rice had been approved for sale for human consumption. It has since been approved but has not been commercially marketed.

Rice futures initially plunged on the news.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Bayer lawyer Mark Ferguson said that the price quickly recovered and that farmers who waited suffered only small losses. Ferguson acknowledged that Denny Deshotels and his family had suffered some loss, but did not name an amount in closing arguments.

Ferguson also said that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had not proven that Bayer was negligent.

Don Downing, a lawyer for Deshotels, of Lettsworth, La., said that the family farmer lost more than a million when the market plunged, and faced additional costs of switching crops and cleaning equipment of LibertyLink rice.

”It was Bayer’s carelessness, and Denny Deshotels was hurt,” he told jurors.

A series of so-called ”bellwether” trials were initially set up to allow representative cases to proceed to trial. The outcome gives both plaintiffs and defendants a hint of what may come in the other pending cases — and an opportunity to work out a settlement.

In December, jurors awarded $2 million to farmers. A different jury, also in federal court in St. Louis, awarded $1.5 million to farmers in February. Neither jury awarded punitive damages, and in the Deshotels case, they were not given the option because of Louisiana law.

In two state trials in Arkansas, jurors also had found in favor of farmers, Downing said. A spokesman said jurors awarded farmers $1 million in the first trial and $48 million in the second, including punitive damages of $42 million in the second trial.

Deshotels, in a prepared statement, said he and his family were ”very happy.”

”I hope that the result of this trial and the results of the previous trials opens Bayer’s eyes as to the difficulties U.S. long grain rice farmers have faced since the contamination ... and that they make things right for all other rice farmers affected,” he said.

In their own statement, Bayer CropScience said it disagreed with the verdict and would ”consider its legal options.”

”Bayer CropScience looks forward to working with those parties who approach discussions of economic loss with an appropriate frame of reference,” said Bruce Mackintosh, general counsel for Bayer CropScience L.P. in that statement. Robert Patrick

US jury awards $940,000 in rice lawsuit

July 30, 2010

The German conglomerate Bayer CropScience has been ordered to pay six Arkansas rice farmers $940,000 for allowing genetically altered rice into the commercial market.A jury in Desha County on Wednesday found the farmers suffered losses when exports and rice prices fell after the contamination was announced in 2006.Bayer issued a prepared statement saying it will consider its legal options and that the company "maintains it acted responsibly and appropriately at all times" in handling the rice.The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said the rice poses no health risk _ but it had not been approved for human consumption at the time.Three federal juries and three juries in Arkansas have now awarded more than $53 million to farmers for damages in the case.

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