First, Bayer said that GE Rice contamination in 2006 was an "Act of God." Now, evidence in a legal case shows the genetic engineering and chemical giant stalled before alerting the public and farmers about the contamination. Independent research conducted on behalf of Greenpeace estimates that over a billion dollars worth of damages farmers and the rice industry have been caused to date by illegal GE rice contaminating US rice breeding lines. If Bayer had acted sooner, they could have reduced the scale of the release. Instead they gambled that Europeans and others would be cow-towed into accepting illegal and untested experimental grains. With evidence from Greenpeace that rice imports into Canada are also contaminated, it could become even worse for Bayer.
DeWitt Era-Enterprise – February 6, 2008
Genetic rice suit moving forward
By Christina Verderosa
The issue of genetically modified rice may have faded from the headlines, but attorneys at the Birmingham-based law firm, Hare, Wynn, Newton and Newell are actively pursuing a lawsuit over the August 2006 incident when small quantities of GMO rice were found in the Arkansas crop.
Last Wednesday, representatives of the firm updated local farmers at a meeting sponsored by the Arkansas Rice Growers’ Association on the status of the suit. The suit started out “over a year ago, with12 farmers from Lonoke County,” attorney Jim Thompson said. There are now 287 farm entities signed onto the suit. Thompson could not give a specific number, but said afterward there were “several” from Arkansas County.
The suit names Bayer Crop Sciences who grew the GMO rice and Riceland Foods as defendants. Thompson said Bayer had the case removed from state court and sent to federal court. “That was a delaying tactic,” Thompson said. The case is now back in Lonoke County Circuit Court.
Afterward, Thompson said he expects the case will go to trial this year. “We’re asking for a trail date before the year is out.” Despite the delay caused by sending the case to the federal court, “we’re pretty far along, considering that we lost a year.”
Paul Byrd from the firm’s Little Rock office gave some of the background of the case. Red rice, a persistent problem for Arkansas rice farmers, was becoming more resistant to the herbicides used to kill it, so “Bayer Crop Science saw an opportunity,” Byrd said. They knew the European Union had a “zero tolerance policy” toward GMO material, but “they started pushing the limit,” Byrd said.
“They gambled they’d get EU approval for this,” Byrd said. “They gambled with you [farmers].”
Byrd also criticized Riceland for not making the presence of GMO material in Arkansas rice public sooner.
“What if you had that knowledge 30 days earlier?” Byrd asked. Farmers could then have taken action to segregate the Cheniere rice, where the GMO was detected. “We lost an opportunity,” he said.
Thompson said Riceland has a “fiduciary relationship” with its members, which makes it Riceland’s responsibility to look out for the interest of its members. “They failed to uphold it.”
Attorney Jerry Kelly of Carlisle said, “We’re asking the hard questions, but they’re fighting us tooth-and-nail.” Thompson encouraged all farmers effected to get involved. “Go get a lawyer, even if you don’t hire us.”