Bayer unit to pay $750-mn for GM rice lawsuits to US farmers

A Bayer AG unit has agreed to pay $750 million towards settlement of claims with about 11,000 US farmers who claim that their crops lost their export value due to a strain of the company's genetically modified rice.

With the announcement yesterday, scores of lawsuits filed against the Bayer CropScience unit of the company by farmers in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi come to an end.

According to the agriculture department's 2006 statement trace quantities of the company's experimental LibertyLink strain were found in long-grain rice. Within four days, declining rice futures cost growers about $150 million, according to a complaint filed by the farmers with news of the contamination causing futures prices to fall about 14 per cent.

''From the outset of this litigation, we made it clear to Bayer that the company needed to step up and take responsibility for damaging American rice farmers with its unapproved rice seeds,'' Adam Levitt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement yesterday. ''This excellent settlement goes a long way toward achieving that goal.''

While confirming the settlement a spokesman for Bayer said although Bayer CropScience believed it acted responsibly in the handling of its biotech rice, the company considered it important to resolve the litigation so that it could move forward focused on its fundamental mission of providing innovative solutions to modern agriculture.

The company and plaintiffs' lawyers said separately that the accord was contingent upon the participation of growers representing at least 85 per cent of the US long-grain rice acreage planted between 2006 and 2009.