LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) — Rice growers met a threshold to move forward with a $750 million settlement over genetically modified rice, the company blamed for the problem said Thursday.
Bayer CropScience had agreed to the settlement this summer, five years after the company inadvertently introduced a strain of genetically altered long-grain rice into the U.S. market. As part of the settlement, Bayer set a threshold of 85 percent of rice acreage involved and could have opted out of the deal if enough farmers didn't sign up.
"Although Bayer CropScience believes it acted responsibly in the handling of its biotech rice, the company considered it important to resolve the litigation so that it can move forward focused on its fundamental mission of providing innovative solutions to modern agriculture," spokesman Greg Coffey said in a statement.
Farmers in Arkansas — where about half of the nation's rice is produced — as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas sued Bayer after the German conglomerate developed an experimental strain of rice called LibertyLink to withstand its Liberty herbicide. Federal regulators had not yet approved it for human consumption when trace amounts were found mixed with conventional rice seed in storage bins.
No human health problems have been associated with the contamination, but that wasn't known at the time.
The fear that the rice was unsafe, along with the notion that genetically altered herbicide-tolerant rice was somehow impure, quashed sales in major markets. The mistake also left growers with huge losses, since prices fell.
The proposed settlement applies to long-grain rice, often used in pilaf or mixed with beans. It doesn't affect farmers who grow medium-grain rice, often used in sushi, or short-grain rice, found in cereal.