Bayer faces more lawsuits over GMO rice (29/8/2006)

The latest suit seeks $275,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages...

Bayer faces more lawsuits over GMO rice
REUTERS, Aug 29 2006 By Lisa Haarlander

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Bayer CropScience has been hit with two more lawsuits claiming its genetically modified rice contaminated the U.S. long grain rice supply, according to court documents and attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), now faces a total of three lawsuits seeking damages to compensate farmers for falling rice prices.

The U.S. Agriculture Department announced August 18 that trace amounts of an unapproved GMO variety engineered by Bayer CropScience were found in rice storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

USDA said there was no health or environmental risk. But Japan has suspended imports of U.S. long grain rice and the 25-nation European Union will only allow into its stores long grain rice that is certified free of the unapproved strain.

The latest lawsuit was filed on Tuesday morning in Lonoke County Courthouse in Lonoke, Arkansas, on behalf of 20 rice farmers, said Janet Keller, spokeswoman for the law firm of Hare, Wynn, Newell and Newton LLP, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama.

Arkansas is the top rice producing state in the United States and its farmers have just begun harvesting the crop.

The latest suit seeks $275,000 per plaintiff plus punitive damages, Keller said.

"We fully anticipate more farmers to become involved," she said.

Since the announcement of the contamination, rice futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have fallen about 85 cents per hundredweight, or about 9 percent, on worries that exports would be affected.

The two other lawsuits, each seeking class-action status, were filed on Monday against Bayer CropScience.

One, brought by Lonnie and Linda Parson, rice farmers in Arkansas, was filed by Emerson Poynter LLP in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. Damages were not specified.

Another was brought by Geeridge Farm Inc. and George Watson and was filed by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

U.S. officials are still investigating how the biotech rice ended up in the commercial supply.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop this year valued at around $1.9 billion.


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