A test strain of genetically modified rice that was found in commercial supplies in the southeastern United States in August was retroactively approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the day after Thanksgiving.
Bayer CropScience, which developed the strain, known as LLRICE 601, said in a prepared statement that it welcomes the decision. The company, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the protein in the rice "is well known to regulators, who have affirmed the rice poses no human health or environmental concern," and has been approved for food use in a number of crops in many countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico, the United States and the European Union. Nonetheless, the company said it does not intend to commercialize LLRICE 601.
But at least 13 lawsuits have been filed against Bayer, and lawyers representing hundreds of rice farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri have asked a St. Louis court to combine the actions.
The suits allege that farmers lost substantial revenue as a result of Bayer's actions. Prices for rice fell in Japan, and the European Union began requiring GM testing for all U.S. rice exports. The USDA has estimated that approximately 50 percent of the U.S. rice crop is exported.
Don Downing, an attorney with Gray, Ritter & Graham in St. Louis, who represents about 250 farmers in various lawsuits against Bayer, said it's not unusual for such lawsuits to be combined. A panel of judges will decide whether to allow that. Downing said he expects a decision within about a month. "I think they'll agree to combine all the lawsuits," he said. If so, all the suits will be sent to a particular judge in a particular forum—a federal court in either Louisiana, Arkansas or Missouri, where the litigation will be streamlined.
"Hopefully we can keep the pressure on Bayer," Downing said.