A Bayer AG unit will pay $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 United States farmers who said a strain of the company’s genetically modified rice tainted crops and ruined their export
The settlement, announced on Friday, ends scores of lawsuits filed against the Bayer CropScience unit of the company by farmers in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.
The Agriculture Department said in August 2006 that trace amounts of the company’s experimental LibertyLink strain were found in long-grain rice. Within four days, declining rice futures cost growers about $150 million, according to a complaint filed by the farmers. News of the contamination caused futures prices to fall about 14 percent.
“From the outset of this litigation, we made it clear to Bayer that the company needed to step up and take responsibility for damaging American rice farmers with its unapproved rice seeds,” Adam Levitt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement Friday. “This excellent settlement goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”
Bayer confirmed the settlement.
“Although Bayer CropScience believes it acted responsibly in the handling of its biotech rice, the company considers it important to resolve the litigation so that it can move forward focused on its fundamental mission of providing innovative solutions to modern agriculture,” a spokesman for the company said.
The accord is contingent upon the participation of growers representing at least 85 percent of the United States long-grain rice acreage planted between 2006 and 2009, the company and plaintiffs’ lawyers said separately.
Bayer and Louisiana State University had tested the rice, bred to be resistant to Bayer’s Liberty-brand herbicide, at a school-run facility in Crowley, La.
The genetically modified variety cross-bred with and “contaminated” more than 30 percent of United States ricelands, Don Downing, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said at the start of the first farmers’ trial in November 2009.
Exports fell as the European Union, Japan, Russia and other overseas buyers ceased or slowed their orders for testing of long-grain rice grown in the United States, the growers said.
The company denied that the testing program had been negligently managed and claimed that sale prices had rebounded after the initial drop. It said the trace amounts of the LibertyLink rice posed no threat to people.