Creative Commons Attribute/Share Alike by Suriya DonavanikBayer, the company that wants the world to eat Genetically Engineered (GE) rice, recently had to fork over more money for contaminating the US rice supply with an experimental, unapproved rice variety in 2006.

Recently, Riceland Foods, a rice milling and marketing company, was awarded US$ 136.8 million in damages.

While the health and environmental effects of GE crops remain unknown, the potential negative economic impact on farmers and producers is becoming measurable: This is but one of many contamination events. The industry may not have lived up to its promise to feed the world, but it's certainly feeding a lot of lawyers.

Riceland oncd exported much of the United States' rice to Europe. When the first alarms went up that there'd been a contamination, Riceland at first assumed that the source was from other commodities – maize or soya.

Once Bayer announced the contamination was in fact their own experimental LL601 variety, Riceland had to halt all exports of rice to Europe. The European market for rice from the United States collapsed and even today, Thailand and other rice-producing countries have taken up supplying Europe.

This verdict brings the total awarded against Bayer to over US$ 200 million, almost half what the company set aside in its latest budget for exactly this purpose. However, there have only been 10 trials involving about 30 of the more than 6000 plaintiffs. If rice farmers and producers continue to be compensated for their losses following the court cases and decisions to come, Bayer could end up paying out even more than the US$ 741 – 1.285 million the contamination event was estimated to have cost in an independent report commissioned by Greenpeace.

The rise of newly herbecide-resistant strains of weeds has already battered GE's selling point of making farming easier. Now it's looking less and less profitable as well. The biotech industry probably needs to be thinking about a new sales pitch, or maybe even a new business model. They may be selling more risk than rice.


Creative Commons image by Suriya Donavanik / CC BY-SA 3.0