Bayer Loses Fifth Straight Trial Over U.S Rice Crops

By Margaret Cronin Fisk and Joe Whittington
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 12:00 AM

July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG lost its fifth straight trial over contaminated U.S. long-grain rice to a Louisiana farmer who claimed the company's carelessness with its genetically engineered seed caused exports to plunge.

A jury in St. Louis said today the company should pay damages of $500,248. The company previously lost two trials in state court and two in federal, for a total of more than $52 million in jury awards.

It faces about 500 additional lawsuits in federal and state courts with claims by 6,600 plaintiffs. It hasn't won any rice trials so far.

The Louisiana grower, Danny Deshotels, and his family claimed the company and its Bayer CropScience unit were negligent in testing their genetically modified LibertyLink seed, causing a dive in exports to Europe.

Bayer, based in Leverkusen, Germany, denied it was negligent and disputed the damages claims. It said after today's verdict it "will consider its legal options."

"The facts in this specific case do not support an award of damages," Greg Coffey, a CropScience spokesman, said in the statement. "The company maintains that it acted responsibly and appropriately at all times in the handling of its biotech rice."

A sixth case is scheduled to begin trial July 19 in state court in Arkansas, followed by a federal trial in St. Louis in October, Greg Coffey, a Bayer CropScience spokesman, said yesterday in an interview.

Farmers in five states claim the company and Bayer CropScience negligently contaminated the U.S. long-grain rice crop with its genetically modified LibertyLink seed, leading to export restrictions, bans on two kinds of high-yield seeds and a plunge in prices.

The rice growers' "reputation for producing a pure product was destroyed, with the export market lost," Deshotels' attorney Don Downing told the federal court jury. "It was Bayer's carelessness, and Danny Deshotels was hurt."

Bayer didn't dispute contamination. It denied it was negligent and said rice sales rebounded after an initial drop.

The farmers' losses "were minimal and short-lived," Mark Ferguson, the company's trial attorney, said in closing arguments at the trial. "Global prices recovered quickly with the discovery of other markets."

Deshotels lives in Lettsworth, Louisiana, about 100 miles north of New Orleans and two miles west of the Mississippi River, Downing said.

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