Greenpeace supporters and local farmers are harvesting the black rice variety of organic rice in Ratchaburi. © Greenpeace / Athit Perawongmetha
Last week was a tough one for companies pedaling GE crops across the world. Monsanto admitted their GE cotton is creating resistance in bollworms to the toxins engineered into the cotton, and entered a meeting on agriculture and competition with farmers complaining about their expensive seed. As if admitting your technology is not working isn’t enough, on Monday the third verdict against Bayer for their contamination of US rice supplies was reached in Arkansas, and the jury awarded the farmer over US $ 1 million.
A few months ago I wrote about the first verdict against Bayer for their contamination of the US rice supply in 2006 with genetically engineered rice. Nobody actually knows how the contamination occurred, even after the USDA spent 14 months and 8,500 person hours trying to find out. What is known is that Bayer was conducting field trials in Louisiana with the GE rice, however these were terminated in 2001. Like the case late last year of Linseed contamination in Canada, experimental GE crops seem to come back to haunt their creators even years after they’ve had the plug pulled on them.
Together with the first two cases, Bayer has now had over $ 4.5 million awarded against them. In this third verdict however, of the $ 1 million total, $ 500 000 was awarded as punitive damages. This means that the jury is punishing Bayer specifically for the contamination, not just asking them to compensate the farmer for his losses. These damages are made in order to deter a defendant from repeating the thing that got them into court in the first place. In this Bayer case that would mean stopping open field trails of GE crops, something that Greenpeace could definitely agree on!
The primary reason for these companies to create genetically engineered crops is to enable them to control where and how we get our food. Bayer is not the only company in court – Monsanto is no stranger to the court room, however they prefer to have the farmers in the dock as opposed to themselves. No doubt Bayer would prefer to have someone else being prosecuted at the moment too. The plaintiffs in these first three lawsuits are the first among about 6000 rice producers that have sued Bayer in relation to this contamination – the costs could add up very quickly.
Regardless of who wins or loses in court, we need to take back our food production systems and support the farmers that produce our food to farm using methods that are better not only for the eaters, but for the whole planet.