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By Rady Ananda

A United States federal jury ruled this month that Bayer CropScience must pay $2 million to two Missouri farmers for contaminating their rice crops with illegal GMO rice. Farmers Ken Bell and Johnny Hunter, the first in a series of 1200 such litigants, lost sales overseas as a result.

The jury in In Re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 06-MD-01811, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) awarded them $1.9 million and $53,336, respectively, in compensatory damages. Neither punitive damages nor criminal fines were assessed, despite Bayer poisoning the US food supply with an illegal substance.

Bloomberg reports that more than 30% of US ricelands have been contaminated. Litigation has also been brought against Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill by British and German food processors, according to an economic assessment by Dr. E. Neal Blue.

“When Bayer CropScience’s rice was released into the rice supply in 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture barred such genetically modified products from the U.S. rice supply, according to Adam Levitt, an attorney representing the plaintiffs,” reports Triangle Biz Journal. The European Union, Japan, Russia, and other markets refused to purchase rice from the United States.

Greenpeace noted that GMO rice is not legal anywhere in the world. “Bayer’s application for commercialisation in the Philippines and in certain other parts of the world is mainly to legalise the entry of contaminated rice from the US where massive contamination was discovered in 2006.” Greenpeace is fighting to prevent the approval of Bayer’s GMO rice for importation as food, feed and processing, in the Philippines.

“Aside from the risks involved in the process of developing this genetically modified rice strain,” said Danny Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, “residues of the powerful herbicide — Liberty Link (gluphosinate) — also put at risk those who will be consuming it on a daily basis and at least two times a day. GMO rice should never be allowed to enter Philippine shores again and threaten our rice supply in the future.”

Bayer admitted it was unable to control the spread of its genetically-engineered organisms despite ‘the best practices’ to stop contamination. It shows that all outdoors field trials or commercial growing of GMO crops must be stopped before all crops are irreversibly contaminated.

Dr. Blue concludes in Risky Business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US, that the total costs incurred throughout the world as a result of the contamination are estimated to range from $741 million to $1.285 billion.

Not only US ricelands were affected. According to Blue, “Traces of LL601 rice were discovered in the rice grain merchandising system in Europe, Africa and Asia in August 2006.” In his 2007 report, he notes that no one has yet explained how the contamination by an illegal substance became so widespread.

The verdict indicates that Bayer is liable for what could turn out to be a large proportion of these costs, as it awards damages in the first two of more than 1,200 currently pending lawsuits.

US consumers should actively seek foods that specifically claim to be GMO free or that are labelled organic. But as Monsanto goons head Obama’s US Food Safety Working Group, a safer bet is to plant your own gardens with heirloom seeds to be assured the crops are GMO free.