Fewer than 10 cases related to the 2006 discovery of trace amounts of GM traits in U.S. rice have been heard in federal and state courts. Thus far, Bayer, the company that owns the offending traits, has lost every case with thousands left to litigate.

For more, see GM rice.

And in the state cases, Bayer has lost big. Most recently, in a February/March case that pitted Riceland (the big-player, Stuttgart, Ark.-based rice co-op) against Bayer, damages were for some $140 million. Last May, a case involving a group of farmers suing Bayer in Lonoke County, Arkansas, cost the company nearly $50 million.

Or did it? An act passed by the 2003 Arkansas legislature, which capped lawsuit damages, is the reason for the question. It is expected a coming Arkansas Supreme Court ruling will resolve the issue. And it’s a ruling Bayer is surely waiting for before committing whole-heartedly to either settling or taking the long list of pending Mid-South-based farmer suits to trial.

During a late-March interview, Barry Deacon, Riceland’s Jonesboro, Ark.-based lead attorney throughout the last five years of GM-rice litigation, spoke with Delta Farm Press about the unresolved legal issues surrounding the case, explained why the co-op was advised against telling its side of the story until the recent trial, and how the USDA investigation was hampered. Among Deacon’s comments:

First, could you tell our readers how you came to the case? Were you hired shortly after that August announcement?

“I’ve been involved from the start, basically since the announcement of contamination (on Aug. 18,) 2006. I was hired by Riceland shortly thereafter.

For more, see Questions abound as rice industry faces GMO concerns. 

“The USDA was (conducting) an investigation at that time. I helped Riceland through some of that – USDA inquiries regarding the contamination. (Riceland) got a lot of inquiries because, obviously, it was one of their customers who had notified them earlier in the year that they’d found some GM material in a rice shipment to France.”