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Jury: Bayer to Pay Record Damages for US GM Rice Contamination

Immediate release (21 Mar 2011)

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065

A US jury has awarded the US company Riceland Foods Inc. US$136.8 million after court action over the 2006 contamination of US long grain rice stocks with Bayer’s unapproved experimental GM rice LL601. [1]

This award follows several others in US courts where the German–based ag-biotech company has repeatedly been found negligent for allowing a GM long grain rice strain, which had not received any safety approvals anywhere, to contaminate US supplies, forcing recalls and halting exports for several years, including in the UK. [2] The GM rice had only been grown on experimental plots in the USA between 1998 and 2001, yet its presence was detected in imported rice in at least 24 countries.

Most recently a jury in Stuttgart, Arkansas awarded US$11.8 million in compensatory damages and US$125 million in punitive damages to Riceland on 19 March – believed to be the highest award in Arkansas history.

Previous cases brought by farmers against Bayer have also found the company to be negligent, and compensation payments awarded by juries have been as high as US$48 million (to 12 Arkansas rice growers in 2010 [3]). Extensive USDA investigations into the cause of the contamination were inconclusive because of the lapse of time and the lack of records (“some records that might have been pertinent had not been maintained and were not available” [4]). As a result no legal action was taken against Bayer by US regulators.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The latest judgement against Bayer is very welcome as it should encourage biotech companies adopt a much higher degree of care with control and management of GM seeds and test plots. It is another clear reminder of why we need full liability regulations in place before any GM crops are grown.

Farmers and companies in the supply chain, who suffered as a result of Bayer’s negligence, have had to rely on the US courts for justice rather than the regulatory bodies. So far losses incurred in the UK and EU as result of the presence of LL602 rice have been carried by retailers and importers, so Bayer has still not been held to account for the full extent of the harm they cause.

ENDs

Notes

[1] UPDATE: “Riceland Awarded $136.8 Million In Suit Against Bayer CropScience” (see www.arkansasbusiness.com/article.aspx?aID=126162.54928.138303&view=all).

[2] For more background to the contamination and these court cases see GM in The Dock: US Courts step in where regulators fail. Briefing III: Bayer brought to book for contaminating rice (click here).

[3] As above.

[4] See www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/10/content/printable/RiceReport10-2007.pdf.