Documents Released to Plaintiffs in Arkansas Tainted Rice Lawsuit

August 22, 2008

A judge in Arkansas has released a handful of the million-plus documents offered under seal in a lawsuit over genetically modified rice.

Some Arkansas rice farmers claim they lost money after genetically altered rice grown by the Riceland Foods Inc. cooperative accidentally entered the food supply. A number of nations stopped buying Arkansas rice and producers had to sell rice for less in other countries, their lawsuit says.

Plaintiffs say the released documents aid their case, and a defense lawyer says the papers will make no difference.

Parties in the case have made available more than a million pages of documents to lawyers handling the case, with most of them filed under seal pending a review by Lonoke County Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteacre. Whiteacre ordered nine pages released after plaintiffs argued the documents didn’t include any trade secrets.

One set of documents shows how much trucks weighed when they left silos at Weiner with the altered rice and when they arrived at Stuttgart for incineration. Paul Byrd, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that when some trucks arrived weighing less, part of their load may have drifted into other fields in the Delta, tainting non-modified rice. Some of the truck weights went up, too.

Another document released shows Riceland telling a French company that it could not be held responsible for the introduction of altered rice into the European Union because Riceland, too, had suffered damages.

Riceland lawyer Barry Deacon said the documents were not necessarily significant.

“These are not documents that hurt us or help us,” he said.

The lawsuit says Riceland was involved in developing the LibertyLink rice strain and didn’t tell farmers for months that the rice had entered the food supply. Arkansas produces the most rice in the nation.

The strain is not considered harmful to humans but the U.S. Department of Agriculture had not approved it for human consumption.

Stuttgart, Ark.-based Riceland announced in August 2006 the LibertyLink modification, known as LLRICE601 and engineered to resist Bayer CropScience AG’s “Liberty” herbicide, had entered the Arkansas rice crop. Japan, the European Union and other customers stopped importing Arkansas rice, which drove down the price Arkansas farmers received.

Byrd said Riceland worked with Aventis, since purchased by Bayer, in testing the Liberty Link rice in Arkansas. Hundreds of farmers across three states have also sued, usually targeting Bayer.

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