Germany’s Bayer AG is battling to keep thousands of U.S. rice farmers from becoming part of a massive class-action lawsuit over the contamination of commercial rice supplies by a Bayer biotech rice not approved for human consumption.
Farmers suffered extensive losses, both from a plunge in rice prices, and in a drop in export business as Japan and the European Union moved to restrict U.S. rice from crossing their borders.
About 700 rice farmers have filed lawsuits against Bayer following the August 2006 disclosure that the company’s genetically altered experimental rice had somehow contaminated food supplies.
This is an interesting case because, regardless of your view on the benefit or ills of GMO, it illustrates how difficult it is to ensure that such crops are isolated.
In this particular case, farmers lost out because many of their export markets ban GM products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration said there was no public health or environmental risks associated with the genetically engineered rice and the two agencies elected not to punish Bayer for the contamination.
This has to be an excellent example of lobby power because, regardless of the impact of the contamination, the company has demonstrated that it has weak biosecurity measures in place.
Likewise, by not acting on the offence, the FDA has signalled that it does not take biosecurity seriously. Perhaps they want a tragedy on their hands first.
Bayer is, at least, on the defensive.
This is a marginal improvement over the typical farmer’s experience with Monsanto which has a record for suing farmers who fall victims to such contamination.