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Bayer Cropscience Faces More Lawsuits

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Little Rock, ARBayer has been handed yet another lawsuit since the August 18th 2006, announcement by the U.S. Agriculture Department that LLRICE 601, engineered by Bayer, had been found in long grain rice storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri.

LLRICE601 has not been approved for human consumption.

LLRICE 601 (also referred to as "Liberty Rice Link") is a genetically engineered (GE) rice seed developed, manufactured and test-marketed by Bayer CropSciene, a unit of Bayer AG. LLRICE601 is a variety of long grain rice that has been alerted with a bacterial gene that causes the crop to produce a protein that makes it resistant to Liberty®Herbicide (also known as glufosinate) produced by Bayer.

From 1998-2001, Bayer grew the GE rice in test fields but never sought to market the rice commercially, mainly due to warnings from millers and processors as well as domestic and foreign producers that it would be rejected.

(A bio-engineered product must obtain regulatory approval to be commercialized. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all share responsibility for regulating biotechnology products to ensure that approved products developed in the U.S. pose no health threat and no environmental risk.)

As a result of Bayer's actions, Japan and the European Union have placed strict limits on U.S. rice imports and the prices for U.S. rice have dropped dramatically. On August 31, [Reuters] reported that LLRice 601 led to Japan suspending imports of U.S. long grain rice, and the 25-nation European Union requires that long grain rice from the United States is certified free of the unapproved strain.

According to the USDA, rice production in the U.S. is valued at about $1.9 billion. The market price of U.S. rice has dropped approximately ten percent since Bayer first announced that unapproved rice had been found in the food chain.

The United States is expected to produce a rice crop this year valued at around $1.9 billion. Arkansas is the top rice producing state in the United States and its farmers have just begun harvesting the crop. Since the announcement of the contamination, rice futures at the Chicago Board of Trade have fallen about 85 cents per hundredweight, or about 9 percent, on worries that exports would be affected.

Currently, three lawsuits have been filed against Bayer CropScience, alleging that Bayer knew non-GE rice could become contaminated with LLRICE601 by a variety of means including cross-pollination, storage, transportation, etc. and that Bayer failed to prevent their unapproved rice from entering the food chain.

A class action lawsuit was filed August 28th in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas Western Division by Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll on behalf of rice farmers in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California.

As well as seeking compensatory an punitive damages for rice farmers who have commercially harvested and/or harvested non-GE rice, an injunction is sought that requires Bayer to clean up the contamination from its genetically modified rice.

Richard S. Lewis, a partner and environmental legal expert with the Cohen, Milstein firm, explained that, "Our clients feel that Bayer should have taken stricter steps when growing this genetically modified rice to prevent it from contaminating the commercial rice market. Bayer's actions have resulted in an unprecedented price drop financially impacting all rice farmers."

In the fall of 2000, biotech corn "StarLink" was approved for use as animal feed only but found its way into the human food chain, sparking a nationwide recall of taco shells and corn products foods from grocery shelves. The incident lead to a class-action lawsuit, which was settled for $110 million plus interest to farmers whose crops were tainted with StarLink corn, or who suffered from a drop in corn prices due to the controversy over gene-spliced StarLink corn.

The Cohen firm represented farmers in the StarLink case.

U.S. officials are still investigating how the biotech rice ended up in the commercial supply.

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