Costs of Bayer GE rice scandal could exceed 1.2 billion USD

Greenpeace activists in India take action with Farmers' Union to say no to GE Rice

Feature story - 6 November, 2007
When an unapproved genetically engineered (GE) crop was discovered in American rice last year, it triggered the biggest marketing and financial disaster in the history of the US rice industry. We commissioned an independent economist to do some maths; he found that total costs could exceed USD$1.2 billion.

Greenpeace and Bharatiya Kisan Farmers Union unfurl a giant banner in a rice field 25 km from Lucknow, protesting against any genetically engineered rice field trials in the region.  

In August 2006, traces of the uncertified GE crop LL601, known as "Liberty Link" and owned by biotech giant Bayer were found in US rice supplies. 63 percent of US rice exports were affected, the contamination spread to at least 30 countries, from Austria to Ghana to United Arab Emirates.  Major importers such as the EU and the Philippines closed their markets to US rice. Up to US $253 million was lost from food product recalls, and future export losses could reach $445 million.

Contamination came from field trials

What is particularly scary is that Liberty Link was never even grown commercially. The contamination was the result of experimental trials, which ended in 2001 - five years before the contamination was discovered. In a desperate attempt to lessen the damage after the scandal broke, the US government decided to approve the rice strain.  It didn't work; as the report shows, the US rice industry is still reeling.

India, an even bigger rice exporter than the US, is the new battleground for GE crops. The Indian government is preparing to start field trials next month. Greenpeace urges them not to make the same mistakes as the US, and to stop all plans for GE experimental trials. Greenpeace India took action with the Bharatiya Kisan Farmers Union today. They visited one of the 12 areas approved for GE rice trials, and with a giant banner reading "Save our Rice" sent the Indian government a clear message.

As Greenpeace GE campaigner Doreen Stabinsky says: "There is only one way for the rice industry to protect itself from another billion dollar debacle and that is to prevent GE rice from ever being grown."

Bayer attempts to blame God

Hundreds of US farmers and European businesses have filed lawsuits against Bayer in attempts to recoup their losses. Punitive or statutory damages which may be awarded against Bayer may double or even treble the final cost of the GE contamination incident.

Bayer's response to the disaster, which has destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people, from growers to producers to sellers, was to blame God. Seriously, they claimed that the contamination scandal was probably caused by "an Act of God." Even by biotech industry standards, this is beyond grotesque.

India, don’t make the same mistakes as the US

In India, the pro-GE government, its regulators and companies such as Monsanto are preparing to start field trials of damaging GE crops next month. The decision ignores the will of farmers and traders and even the Indian Supreme court, which ruled in August that no new field trial approvals could happen until a full court hearing takes place.

The decision also threatens the Indian basmati rice industry, which is committed to remaining GE free.  Many of the planned GE field trials will take place right next to where basmati is grown, and as genes do not understand political boundaries basmati and non-basmati rice types will face serious danger of contamination.

If their rice gets contaminated, it is Indian farmers, traders and millers whose livelihoods could be destroyed. India and the rest of the world must learn the lessons from the US disaster. The only way to ensure crops are safe from contamination is to ensure that GE crops do not exist at all.