Arkansas farmers sue over genetically modified rice

Published 4:32 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Attorneys representing rice growers filed two class-action lawsuits Monday against Bayer CropScience LP., accusing the company of negligence after trace amounts of an unapproved, genetically engineered rice was found in long-grain rice in Arkansas and Missouri.

The lawsuits were filed Monday in federal court in Little Rock, and attorneys say they represent rice growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Attorneys representing 20 rice farmers say they will file a similar suit Tuesday against Bayer and Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart. Arkansas produces nearly half of the country’s rice supply.

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One lawsuit, filed by Lonnie and Linda Parson of Searcy, has been assigned to Judge Leon Holmes. A second case, filed by Geeridge Farm Inc. of Humnoke and George G. Watson of Earle has been assigned to Judge George Howard Jr. Neither of the cases have been certified as class-action yet.

Both lawsuits center on a strain of rice known as LLRICE601, a rice that was tested by Bayer between 1998 and 2001. That strain contains a gene that makes the rice resistant to the herbicide Liberty.

The government announced Aug. 18 that the genetically engineered rice had been found in U.S. rice long-grain rice supplies.

“Bayer was aware, or should have been aware, that unless strict precautionary measures could be implemented at all levels — from the farm level from planting through the distribution, transportation, storage and disposal chain — … LLRICE601 would contaminate the entire U.S. rice crop and infiltrate the general U.S. rice supply,” the complaint from Geeridge Farm and Watson said.

Since the government’s announcement, prices for rough rice have plummeted. Japan has banned imports of U.S. rice, while European countries have prohibited rice imports unless they’ve been tested and found not to contain the genetically engineered crop.

“As a direct consequence, rice farmers have been significantly damaged economically as they are receiving a lower price for their crops at a time when this year’s harvest is coming in,” the Parsons’ lawsuit said.

Federal officials have said the genetically engineered rice poses no health or food safety risks.