A federal judge will decide whether to consolidate several lawsuits over genetically engineered rice into a single class action suit that would include thousands of rice farmers throughout the United States. The issue before U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry is whether farmers suffered economic damage after a strain of Bayer CropScience AG’s experimental rice was released into the food supply in 2006. Some foreign countries temporarily banned U.S. rice exports after the release of the so-called Liberty Link rice, drying up key foreign markets and causing the price for U.S. rice to drop. After those developments, several farmers filed suit, including some from Arkansas, which grows more rice than any other state.
If Judge Perry grants the suit class action status, it could have potentially enormous implications for the biotech seed industry. Every major biotech seed company grows experimental biotech crops outdoors. Rice farmers in the United States say the companies should be held liable for any economic losses on global grain markets if experimental strains escape and crimp export markets. The Liberty Link strain of rice was not considered harmful to humans, but it wasn’t 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 being grown alongside commercial varieties.
Rice is a commodity whose price is set by global markets. As a general rule, farmers get a price for their rice that is closely tied to those prices listed by the Chicago Board of Trade. It should be noted those prices dropped sharply after the Liberty Link episode was announced. However, rice prices have rebounded in recent weeks which could affect damages in some of the filed cases. The total damages already suffered by farmers could be vast, however, according to Colin Carter, an agricultural economics professor at the University of California, Davis. Professor Carter has testified that the rice markets were “shocked” in 2006 when European nations restricted U.S. rice imports. Such a shock becomes a permanent factor in setting the price for a commodity like rice, because traders always know it could happen again. Leigh O’Dell from our firm is handling claims for farmers who have suffered damages. If you need additional information concerning claims of this sort, feel free to contact Leigh at 800-898-2034.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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