Lawyers Want 13 Lawsuits over Biotech Rice to be Merged

DECEMBER 1, 2006 - Posted at 6:04 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Lawyers from three different states where farmers have filed suits against Bayer CropScience AG want the 13 lawsuits to be tried as one, but they can't agree on where the trial should be held. The suits all concern the accidental spread of genetically altered rice that has damaged the market for rice grown by the farmers.

Attorneys representing hundreds of rice farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri told a panel of federal judges at Saint Louis today that the lawsuits should be tried collectively in front of one judge. The farmers want Bayer to pay them for lost revenue and to clean up farms and rice bins that might be contaminated with Liberty Link grains.

The incident caused concern in Europe and Japan, two big markets for U.S. rice. Prices dropped after Japan suspended imports of U.S. long-grain rice and the European Union required extensive testing of all U.S. rice shipments.

Little Rock attorney Scott Poynter said the case should be tried in Arkansas because the state is the biggest rice producer in the United States. He said that, whether the case is won or lost, one thing is sure: The people most affected by this case are going to be Arkansas farmers.

The panel of seven federal judges will now rule whether to combine the suits and decide where they might be heard. Attorneys for the farmers expect the ruling to come within the next month.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)