Three of the lead firms in the Syngenta litigation were involved in the $750 million settlement agreement in 2011 over contamination of the U.S. rice supply by Bayer AG’s genetically modified rice. A number of Arkansas rice farmers received damages as part of the settlement.
In March 2011, a Stuttgart jury awarded Riceland Foods Inc. $136.8 million in its lawsuit against Bayer CropScience over the GM rice. That award was believed to be one of the largest in Arkansas history.
Riceland had alleged that negligence on the part of Bayer CropScience 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. 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.
Lawyers in the GMO corn case have drawn comparisons to the Bayer-Rice litigation.
Scott Powell, of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, was one of the lead attorneys in that litigation as well serving as lead counsel in Schafer v. Bayer CropScience. In that case, a Lonoke County jury awarded Randy Schafer and several other Lonoke County rice farmers $48 million, an award later upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Asked about the Syngenta case in light of the Bayer verdicts, Powell told Arkansas Business: “My judgment is that they see that they have a profit opportunity that far surpasses their supposed legal exposure. If they can pay 2 to 3 to 4 billion dollars to the farmers for doing this but they stand to make 7, 8, 10 billion from the project, that’s pretty easy math.”
Scott Poynter of Emerson Poynter expects the Syngenta corn case to be bigger than the Bayer rice case because many more farmers are involved.
The Syngenta-GMO corn case also evokes another GMO corn product, one that resulted in massive food recalls: StarLink. StarLink was developed by Aventis CropScience, which Bayer went on to acquire to form Bayer CropScience. The StarLink product, which hadn’t been approved for human consumption, entered the U.S. food supply, and food companies had to recall millions of pounds and millions of dollars worth of foods.