Posted 3/19/2011 03:15 am
Updated 2 years ago
A Stuttgart jury on Friday awarded Riceland Foods Inc. $136.8 million in its lawsuit against Bayer CropScience over genetically modified rice.
The award is believed to be the largest in Arkansas history. The circuit court jury said Bayer CropScience owed Riceland $11.8 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. (An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect figure for the compensatory damages.)
In an e-mailed statement Friday night, Bayer CropScience expressed its disappointment with the verdict and said it was considering its legal options. It also noted that Arkansas law limits punitive damages to $1 million.
A Riceland spokesman, Bill J. Reed, said in an e-mailed statement:
"We are pleased that the jury's award recognizes the tremendous harm caused to Riceland and the entire rice industry when Bayer contaminated the U.S. rice supply with its Liberty Link rice.
"Riceland feels vindicated that the jury also found that Bayer was solely responsible for the farmers' damages resulting from the loss of the European Union market.
"Although Riceland sought more in compensatory damages, we respect the jury's verdict."
Riceland had alleged that negligence on the part of Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C., had cost Riceland, a farmers cooperative, $380 million in both projected and future losses since August 2006. That was when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Bayer's experimental Liberty Link rice had been found in the U.S. supply of long-grain rice.
The European Union, which had been a major customer for Arkansas rice, refused to import any rice showing traces of genetically modified organisms, or GMO. With the USDA announcement that trace amounts of GMO rice had been detected, Arkansas farmers lost the multination market of the EU, and, they said, millions of dollars in sales.
Arkansas grows more rice than any other state.
Although the EU in June lifted its testing requirements for U.S. rice, other suppliers have moved into the European market and supplanted American farmers, according to advocates of U.S. rice farmers.
Since then, a number of lawsuits have been filed against Bayer. In April 2010, a Lonoke County Circuit Court found Bayer responsible for $5.9 million in compensatory and $42 million in punitive damages to 12 Lonoke County rice growers. Bayer appealed the decision.
Barry Deacon of the Jonesboro law firm of Barrett & Deacon represented Riceland.