Contamination by Genetically Modified Rice Is Costly to Bayer

August 17, 2011

There is widespread concern that genetically modified crops will contaminate non-GM crops, either through cross-pollination or by being mixed in through the distribution or sales chains, making them unsellable in various markets. There is growing evidence of such problems.

Bayer CropScience has acknowledged one of these situations, agreeing to pay up to $750 million to about 11,000 farmers to compensate for contaminating two varieties of long-grain rice. It remains unclear whether the contamination occurred via cross-pollination or through other pathways. The settlement cost is in addition to other payments Bayer has been forced to make following jury decisions or settlements.

The US Dept. of Agriculture began investigating the problem in 2006, and found the long-grain rice varieties Cheniere and Clearfield 131 had been contaminated by the regulated genetic materials LLRICE601 and LLRICE604, respectively. Those materials had been used by Bayer CropScience to create what it calls its LibertyLink lines of rice. During its investigation, the agency also discovered seven instances in which Bayer had violated regulations during its field trials of the rice, but the 5-year statute of limitations had expired by the time the agency identified these problems. Despite its findings of multiple problems, the agency declined to take any enforcement action, in part because important records from the sites where the contamination occurred were missing or never created.

Soon after the contamination was publicized in August 2006, farmers and others filed thousands of suits over the contamination. The settlement of the consolidated cases involves farmers and others in all states where long-grain rice is grown, dominated by AR, LA, MO, MS, and TX. The law firm BrownGreer is administering the settlement, though its attorneys declined to discuss the process.

The USA Rice Federation played a role in crafting the settlement.

To take effect, the settlement requires participation of farmers who planted at least 85% of the average 2.2 million acres of long-grain rice grown each year from 2006 to 2009.

If you publish or broadcast in a rice-growing region, you may find local stories by searching out farmers or firms potentially involved in the settlement. One starting point for identifying companies in your area that deal with long-grain rice, and who may be involved with the settlement is:

Other sources for tracking down farmers, who must join the settlement by Oct. 10, 2011, are:

Farmers who decide not to join the settlement can continue to pursue their own individual suits.

LibertyLink rice was created to make it tolerant of the herbicide glufosinate. European regulators have determined this herbicide is unacceptably toxic, and in 2009 banned its use.

Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey says LibertyLink rice is not sold anywhere at this time.

SEJ Publication Types: 
Topics on the Beat: