Friday, January 21, 2011

Rice Farmers Settle

Rice farmers settle with Bayer
St. Louis Business Journal
January 14, 2011

Four Mississippi rice farmers reached an agreement Friday with Bayer to settle their genetically modified rice claims for $873,000.

The trial was supposed to start Tuesday in federal court in St. Louis.

Don Downing, of the St. Louis law firm Gray, Ritter & Graham, helped represent the farmers, who will receive an average settlement amount of more than $300 per acre.

This case is part of a series of similar bellwether trials Downing’s involved in against Germany-based Bayer Cropscience AG. So far, Downing has collected $53 million in damages for his farmer clients.

The settlement reached Friday calls for the potential for a larger amount if a later global settlement of all such claims is more favorable to the farmers.

The suit was brought on behalf of the farmers who said they suffered economic damages since 2006 from contamination of their crops by an unapproved genetically modified strain of rice seed produced by Bayer. The discovery of the contamination led to a dramatic drop in U.S. rice prices, as the European Union stopped purchasing the U.S. rice.

The plaintiffs in the case are Byrd Farms Partnership, of Sunflower, Miss.; Rizzo Farms Joint Venture, of Cleveland, Miss.; Peter Dulaney Farms, of Tunica, Miss.; and Pongetti Farms Partnership, in Shelby, Miss.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry ordered a series of bellwether or test trials involving rice farmers who claimed similar economic damages caused by Bayer.

Six previous cases — including three bellwether trials in federal court and three trials in state court in Arkansas — have gone to trial and each resulted in substantial jury verdicts for the plaintiff farmers. Two of the juries awarded punitive damages against Bayer.

This is the second case brought by farmers that has been settled. A similar case brought by three Texas rice farmers was settled in October of last year. More than 8,000 plaintiffs have sued Bayer over its contamination of the U.S. rice supply by unapproved genetically modified rice.

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