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Deadline nearing for Bayer CropScience claims

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The deadline is approaching for rice farmers to submit claims in order to share in the settlement of a lawsuit against Bayer CropScience over genetically modified rice that was inadvertently introduced into the U.S. market.

Bayer has agreed to a $750 million settlement. Farmers have until Oct. 10 to submit claims.

Richard Coffman, an attorney who represents hundreds of farmers and landowners in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas in the lawsuit, told the Stuttgart (Ark.) Daily Leader farmers who haven’t started the process need to do so. There are also plaintiffs from Mississippi and Missouri.

“Time is short and if you haven’t started the claims process, you need to do so as soon as possible,” said Coffman, who’s from Beaumont, Texas.

The settlement applies to long-grain rice, the kind used in pilaf or typically mixed with beans. It doesn’t affect farmers who planted medium-grain rice, which is often used in sushi, or short-grain rice, which is often used to make cereal.

A farmer who planted 500 acres of rice every year from 2006 to 2010 would collect $155,000 based on a rate of $310 per acre. Plus, farmers can collect if the contaminated rice forced them to plant another crop, such as wheat or soybeans, that didn’t pay as well.

The litigation goes back to 2006, when Bayer disclosed that an experimental strain of genetically altered rice was found in U.S. food supplies. No human health problems have been associated with the contamination, but that wasn’t known at the time and the disclosure led to the fear that the rice was unsafe. It also quashed sales in major markets, including the European Union, leading to lower prices for long-grain rice.

Coffman said that Bayer has the option to cancel the settlement if 85 percent of the eligible rice acreage does not participate in it.

Arkansas leads the nation in rice production, producing about half the nation’s rice crop.

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