Bayer in $750 million settlement with rice growers

by Josh Sosland
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Bayer CropScience and attorneys representing U.S. long-grain rice growers have reached a settlement under which Bayer CropScience will pay up to $750 million to resolve claims related to allegations that traces of an unapproved bioengineered trait in Bayer rice had contaminated the U.S. rice crop.
Bayer said the settlement program will be open to all U.S. growers who cultivated rice during the period of 2006 through 2010.

“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,” the company said.

Bayer said settlement agreements have been reached with two groups of lawyers. One agreement involves those cases that are a part of the federal multi-district litigation; the other involves those cases in state courts.

Plaintiffs in the case were long-grain rice farmers in five southern states, along with rice buyers, exporters, millers, and other businesses. Adam Levitt, an attorney representing the growers, said the millers, exporters and others were not parties to the settlement, and their cases are proceeding. Mr. Levitt is a Chicago-based partner in the firm of Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler, Freeman and Herz.

The settlements are contingent on the participation of a sufficient number of growers to represent at least 85% of U.S. long-grain rice acreage, Bayer said.

The company said it believes “inclusion of all long-grain rice growers in the settlement program, whether they have filed a lawsuit or not, to be crucial to demonstrating the company’s long-term commitment to rice, which remains an important crop for Bayer CropScience throughout the world.”

The settlement would bring to conclusion a four-year old case that arose when traces of the bioengineered rice, which was being grown on test sites, were found in the U.S. rice supply. Growers alleged they were harmed by declining rice prices when several importing nations banned U.S. rice. The contamination occurred in 2006.
Growers had sought class action status in the lawsuit, but the request was refused in 2008 by federal district court judge Catherine Perry. Instead, she set a series of bellwether trials in which individual or small groups of farmers were able to litigate their claims.

In an update earlier this year, Wolf, Haldenstein said the plaintiffs were successful in each subsequent case that reached trial.

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