Similar to the StarLink debacle that plagued U.S. corn farmers in 2000-01, in August 2006, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced that LLRICE 601, a genetically-modified rice developed by Bayer CropScience (a subsidiary of Bayer AG, which had purchased Aventis CropScience in the wake of the StarLink incident), had been detected in the U.S. rice supply. LLRICE had not yet been licensed by the Federal government for the growing of commercial rice. The news swiftly led to the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and other overseas buyers of U.S. rice placing embargoes on American rice, or requiring expensive testing before they would accept shipments of U.S. rice, and the resulting collapse of the export market for U.S. rice and a sharp decline in the market price of U.S. rice. Just a few months later, in March 2007, CL 131 rice seed’a non-genetically-modified rice seed created and marketed by BASF and designed to combat ‘red rice’ weed problems’ had been contaminated by LLRICE 604, another of Bayer’s genetically-modified rice seeds.
Seeger Weiss LLP is a member of the court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, representing hundreds of named Plaintiffs suing on behalf of classes of rice producers in various rice-belt states against BayerCropScience and several of its American and foreign affiliates. In the actions, the rice producers seek damages representing the loss in value of their rice crops due to the improper handling and distribution of LLRICE 601 and 604, as well as to recover the costs of decontaminating their farmland, farming equipment, storage facilities, and transportation equipment damages; and the costs of testing or other measures need to maintain and ensure the purity and integrity of their rice crops. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has centralized the cases in the Federal Court in St. Louis before U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry. In December 2007, Plaintiffs filed a motion to certify five statewide classes’ covering U.S. rice producers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. Following extensive briefing and discovery, Judge Perry had an all-day hearing on the motion on May 22, 2008. She is expected to issue her ruling shortly. Judge Perry has already denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss Bayer AG for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was argued one day before the class certification hearing.