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Farmers File Class Action Suit Against Bayer, Riceland Foods for Unapproved Biotech Rice

Producers fighting for lost market value after prices collapsed earlier this month.

Rice farmers are fighting for lost market value in a class action lawsuit against Bayer CropScience, accusing the company of negligence in allowing unapproved genetically engineered rice to find its way into the commercial supply chain.

Two class-action suits were filed in federal court Monday, while a third lawsuit was filed by about 20 farmers in Lonoke County Circuit Court on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The suit from the 20 farmers is against Bayer and Riceland Foods Inc. The federal lawsuits represent rice growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

According to the Arkansas Rice Growers Association, September rough rice futures fell another 9.5 cents per hundredweight Tuesday, to $8.93. This means that since the announcement regarding the discovery of Liberty Link 601 in US long grain rice on Friday, August 18th, the value of the US long grain rice crop at the farm gate has fallen by about $135 million.

The Arkansas rice group says reports from within the milling and export industry indicate widespread positive results throughout the gulf and delta rice regions in both '05 and '06 crops. In addition to comments previously mentioned varieties sources now indicate positive tests in the variety Clearfield 161.

Riceland knew of problem in January '06

According to a statement issued by Riceland Foods of Stuttgart, Arkansas, trace amounts of Bayer's herbicide-resistance trait was discovered by a rice export customer in January 2006 and the customer contacted Riceland asking for an explanation.

Riceland's statement goes on to say that in May samples were collected from several locations and a significant number tested positive for the Bayer trait known as LL 601. Riceland then contacted Bayer in early June, provided a sample for testing and then in late July Bayer confirmed the positive results. Bayer also said that it was a regulated genetically engineered event and that Bayer was legally required to report the results to the USDA within 24 hours. At that point, apparently the USDA began their investigation and made the first public announcement of the issue with a statement by Secretary Mike Johanns followed by a press conference on August 18, 2006.

John Alter, President of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association summed up the feeling of the organization's members, "Farmers are losing money and there is no clear direction as to where this issue is headed. We need some answers and we need a prompt and thorough investigation as to how this happened and how widespread it is."

Strong similarities seen in previous biotech mix-ups

The biotech rice case is similar to a case in 2000 with StarLink corn. Aventis CropScience - later purchased by Bayer - allowed farmers to plant the corn hybrid that was not approved for human consumption but was not segregated properly.

The same firm that handled the StarLink case on behalf of farmers is again on the side of rice farmers in the latest biotech mishap. Brownfield's reports that one of the lawyers adds that "Adventis knew about the issues [of biotechnology] and should have paid even extra careful attention when they were growing this rice, but they didn't."

U.S. Rice Producers Association Washington Counsel Fred Clark met with Syngenta representatives this week to learn more about how Syngenta handled their responsibilities related to the Bt10 GMO event in corn. Fred reports that Syngenta made special efforts to address issues at the seed dealer, producer, marketer and exporter levels, and that some of these efforts continue years after the initial event. Grain trading firms and other related parties also report good cooperation with Syngenta in this regard. "We can only hope that Bayer CropScience takes a page from Syngenta's playbook in acting responsibly to help the industry work through the LL Rice 601 event," an update from the Arkansas Rice Growers Association says.

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