What is in this article?:
- $750 million settlement offered to U.S. long-grain rice farmers.
- Stems from market fall following 2006 announcement that trace GM traits found in exported U.S. rice.
- Options and settlement set-up explained.
The timing of Bayer’s approach about a settlement? How long have you been working on this?
“We started negotiating with Bayer – or trying to – back in 2006, right after (the announcement of GM traits in U.S. rice). We told them they needed to step up to the plate and take care of the farmers who’d suffered losses.
“From then until now we’ve had a lot of informal discussions with Bayer. For the first several years, they got nowhere. Bayer was unwilling to pay anything to settle.
“Then, the (federal) court appointed a special master for settlement – former federal judge Stephen Limbaugh – who organized several formal mediation sessions. Some of those occurred before the first bellwether trials, some after. … After the bellwether trials, Bayer became more serious about (settlement) payments.
“I’d say within the last four or five months is when the settlement discussions have become very serious, talking about specific dollar amounts and the three different ‘pots’ of money that ultimately resulted in the settlement.
“Once we reached agreement on the numbers, a lot of time was spent crafting the settlement document. It’s very complex and, as you might expect, has a lot of ‘legalese’ in it. It took a lot more time than anyone thought it would, even after we’d agreed on the numbers.”
What about the pending cases – they say there are 5,000 or 6,000. Are you trying to rope those into this settlement? Can they independently go their own way?
“This is not a class-action so any farmer who wants their day in court doesn’t have to participate in the settlement. It’s a voluntary, opt-in process.
“The way the settlement is structured, if farmers who farmed 85 percent of the total (rice) acres planted from 2006 through 2009 agree to participate, then the settlement becomes effective and Bayer is obligated to make the payments called for under the agreement.
“If less than 85 percent of those acres are represented, Bayer has the option to walk away from the settlement if it chooses. It also has the option to reduce the $750 million down proportionally, depending on how many farmers sign up. Bayer has some other options, as well.
“We’re very optimistic we can meet the 85 percent threshold. But that’s up to the farmers, who have the right to decide what they want to do.”
Is it fair to say one of the hurdles you’ll have to overcome (with the settlement sign-up) are the huge punitive damages won in Arkansas court?
“I don’t view that as a hurdle, at all. Some cases have had punitive damages (awarded). But even some of the state court cases didn’t result in punitive damages.
“If farmers want to do that, they certainly can. But what I’m picking up – not only from my clients in Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi but also from lawyers representing others in those states – is we think the vast majority of (eligible) farmers will participate (in the settlement).”