Escaped GM rice strain: $1.5 million in damages

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th February 2010

A US court has ordered German company Bayer to pay US$1.5 million in damages to three US farmers after their crops were contaminated with an unapproved strain of Bayer’s genetically modified rice.  This case followed a $2 million ruling in a similar case in December, with around 500 more pending.

Bayer CropScience’s biotech rice strain LL601 or ‘LibertyLink’, a pesticide-resistant plant, was first detected in 2006 in US rice crops. Despite Bayer’s assurances that the product was safe for human consumption, markets reacted badly. In addition to the destruction of millions of dollars worth of crops, many countries halted US rice imports and prices dropped dramatically.  Altogether, it is estimated that this one escaped GM strain cost US growers around US$150 million.  LibertyLink has since been certified for human consumption.

The damages awarded by the juries in both Friday’s and December’s test cases were not punitive, as they were unable to establish that Bayer were negligent in letting the strain escape.  Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Don Downing, expressed his disappointment. “This was all, we believe, very preventable by Bayer, if they had just exercised the kind of care they should have exercised in handling the rice.”  Bayer said it was pleased with the jury’s decision not to award punitive damages, but otherwise was disappointed in the ruling. USDA investigations have been unable to shed light on how the strain got out.