Bayer CropScience considers the verdict of April 15 in the genetically modified rice trial in Lonoke County, AR, incomprehensible. The company has said it will use all legal means available to reverse the decision. A jury in an Arkansas court had awarded compensatory damages in the amount of just under $6 million to 14 rice farmers.
“The facts in this case do not support this award of damages, and certainly not future damages,” says Bruce Mackintosh, general counsel for Bayer CropScience LP.
In addition to the compensatory damages, the jury awarded punitive damages in the amount of $42 million. According to U.S. law, punitive damages may be awarded to plaintiffs in addition to compensatory damages if the defendant has acted in reckless disregard of the consequences.
“This decision is especially incomprehensible to us, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has completed a thorough and diligent investigation without concluding that Bayer CropScience violated any legal requirement with respect to low-level presence of genetically engineered rice in commercial rice," Mackintosh says. "To insinuate a malicious act by Bayer in this case is completely unjustified. Bayer CropScience has acted responsibly and appropriately at all times in the handling of its genetically enhanced rice.
“Furthermore, the amount awarded to the plaintiffs by the jury exceeds by far what is permitted by Arkansas law,” Mackintosh says. "For that reason alone the verdict should be reversed."
In the litigation the rice farmers have alleged economic loss stemming from traces of Bayer CropScience pre-commercial genetically enhanced rice. The traces were detected in 2006 from the long grain harvest of 2005. Following the detection some countries, primarily in Europe, imposed restrictions on U.S. long-grain rice imports. Most long-grain rice grown in the U.S. is consumed outside of Europe and thus the marketing of that portion of the crop remained unaffected by the European regulatory system.
The traces of biotech rice posed no food safety issues. The protein involved, which makes the rice tolerant to a herbicide, has been affirmed safe for various crops by regulators in a number of countries, including Canada, the EU, Japan, and the U.S. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA have determined Bayer CropScience biotech rice to be safe for human consumption; however, Bayer CropScience has not yet commercialized biotech rice.
Regarding the rice litigation, Mackintosh adds: “Bayer CropScience is willing to work with those parties who approach discussions of economic loss in the genetically enhanced rice matter with an appropriate and reasonable frame of reference. Our recent settlement with Riviana Foods and four related companies for $5.8 million attests to our willingness to consider such opportunities to bring an end to litigation.”