When Genetically Modified Crops Pose Financial Harm to Farmers of Conventional Crops

Gray, Ritter & Graham attorney Don Downing served as co-lead counsel in a federal multi-district litigation involving thousands of U.S. rice farmers whose crops were found to contain a strain of genetically modified rice. After the contamination was found, the European Union stopped buying U.S. rice. The bottom dropped out of the market, economically devastating rice producers of this country. The litigation resulted in a $750 million settlement for the farmers from Bayer Cropscience, the producer of the genetically modified rice.

This is but one illustration of the threats posed by genetically modified crops.

Another example of genetically modified crop contamination occurred in May 2013 when anOregon wheat farmer found genetically modified wheat in his fields. This particular strain of wheat is not yet approved for farming in this country. While it remains to be seen just how widespread the contamination is, it could significantly damage U.S. wheat prices if it proves not to be an isolated incident.

Further still, in July 2013 a group of U.S. farmers who grow organic and conventional crops expressed concern over genetically modified soybeans and cotton being developed by Monsanto. The Save Our Crops Coalition asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen its review of the two crops. The USDA is reviewing the crops as part of the approval process for bringing them to market.

The crops in question are being developed to grow resistant to the herbicide dicamba, which is used to control weeds in a variety of crops. By making soybeans, for example, resistant to dicamba, the fields can be treated with the herbicide without damaging the cash crops. This can make for more efficient farming.

One concern of the coalition and other farmers across the country with these genetically modified crops is herbicide drift. If a field of dicamba-resistant soybeans is in proximity to another farmer’s conventional soybeans and is sprayed with dicamba, the herbicide could drift from the targeted fields onto the conventional crops and destroy them.

There is little question that biotechnology advances and innovations have helped farming in this country and around the world. But there are risks in growing genetically modified crops and a number of factors must be carefully monitored. As witnessed in previous litigation, when those dangers materialize and the livelihoods of farmers are harmed, they deserve compensation for their losses.