An Arkansas jury has returned a verdict against German conglomerate Bayer CropScience and awarded a dozen Arkansas farmers nearly $50 million in damages for allowing a genetically altered strain of rice to escape into the commercial market, damaging rice prices in 2006. The jury in Lonoke County, Arkansas, ruled against Bayer in the case last month. The farmers said an experimental rice strain developed by Bayer called Liberty Link was allowed to make its way into the stream of commercially marketed rice. Liberty Link was developed to withstand a popular herbicide that kills weeds in the fields.
Rice prices fell after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in August 2006 that trace amounts of Liberty Link rice were found in U.S. long-grain rice stocks. Bayer argued that any damages farmers may have suffered were minimal, and didn’t last long. The case was the fourth to go to trial among dozens filed by rice-belt farmers against Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant that makes aspirin.
Bayer faced judgments of $4.5 million in the three cases it had lost before this one. The amount awarded in this case far exceeds the $1 million judgment returned against Bayer by a jury in Woodruff County jury in March. The jury’s award in this case included compensatory damages of $5.9 million and $42 million in punitive damages. Liberty Link rice was developed so farmers could apply Liberty herbicide without fear that it would damage their crops.
No nation has approved genetically modified rice for the marketplace. Rice futures plummeted by $150 million immediately after the contamination announcement. European nations quit accepting shipments of rice from the United States that hadn’t been extensively tested to show they weren’t contaminated. Japan banned all American rice. Growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas filed lawsuits against Bayer. The Lonoke County farmers argued that Bayer was not only negligent in its handling of Liberty Link rice, but acted with malicious intent by not announcing the contamination of the commercial rice-seed pool as soon as the company learned of it.
The suit claimed Bayer knew of the contamination as early as January 2006, before that year’s crops were sowed. Farmers didn’t learn of the contamination until the USDA’s announcement, when it was almost time to harvest crops. Bayer claims that when Liberty Link had shown up in commercial rice, it was immediately reported to the government. Scott Powell, a very good lawyer who is with the Birmingham firm of Hare, Wynn tried the case and did an excellent job.
Source: Associated Press
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