The USA Rice Federation has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit in support of verdicts handed down in favor of rice producers. The action comes following Bayer CropScience’s appeal of two of those verdicts.

The cases stem from the 2006 discovery of trace amounts of unapproved Bayer GM traits in the U.S. rice supply. Despite FDA assurances that the rice remained safe for consumption, markets quickly sank as countries rejected loads of U.S. rice. In the following weeks, as potential earnings slipped away, thousands of rice-growing farmers filed lawsuits against Bayer.

Long percolating, those cases are now coming to trial — both individually in state courts and through “bellwether” cases at the federal level. In the few cases litigated so far, plaintiffs have yet to lose and, combined, have won over $50 million.

(For more, see GM rice litigation: plaintiffs and GM rice litigation: defense.)

“Two separate federal juries (have) awarded damages to groups of Arkansas and Missouri farmers,” said Jackie Loewer, a Branch, La., rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Federation, in a statement about the brief. “Bayer’s decision to appeal is unfortunate and it wrongly seeks to shift the cost of LibertyLink onto rice farmers and away from Bayer.”

On Wednesday, Delta Farm Press spoke with Bob Cummings, senior vice president of the Rice Federation, about the litigation. He also spoke about the recently announced Free Trade Agreement with South Korea (for more, see U.S./South Korean Free Trade Agreement struck).

Among his comments:

How keen an eye has the Federation been keeping on the cases?

“First off, the USA Rice Federation isn’t a party to any litigation going on in the LibertyLink (cases). I did testify at several trials at the request of plaintiffs — growers engaged in a suit against Bayer CropScience.

“There are rice farmers (that are members of the Federation) in the rice-growing states that are directly involved in the litigation. That is particularly true of farmers in Arkansas and Louisiana.”

Did you testify at the bellwether trials in St. Louis or down here in Arkansas for the individual cases?

“A combination. I did testify in St. Louis at some of the bellwether trials and also at the Lonoke County trial in Arkansas.”

What about the brief’s timing? Why did the Federation do this now?

“There really was no earlier time to do it. The cases were going on, juries were deliberating.

“Bayer CropScience chose to appeal in St. Louis. The Federation thought it would be wise to weigh in as a representative of the entire industry’s advocate … to ensure what we thought was factual information is on the record.

“The key thing is we’re representing the farmers and millers. We think it’s important we’re out there, as requested, to state our experience with what happened with LibertyLink, what happened with trade, what happened domestically. That’s what we did at trial.”

There were some worries about U.S. rice’s access to the Korean markets before the trade deal went through. Can you comment on that?

“We’re deeply disappointed that rice was excluded from this trade agreement. As a result, we don’t support the trade agreement.

“We’re also looking at the larger picture. Behind the Korea agreement are free trade agreements with Columbia and Panama.

“The Columbia agreement has some very good provisions for U.S. rice. So, we’re focused on making sure that agreement gets through Congress. We’re working any way we can to make sure that folks have a positive view of trade agreements in general, even though the Korea deal wasn’t good for rice. But when done well, when done correctly, trade agreements help rice and we need to keep the agenda moving forward.”

There’s a provision in the trade agreement that says U.S. pork will have greater access in a few years. Anything like that for U.S. rice?

“We do have some limited access in Korea that we got about five, or so, years ago in the context of the WTO.

“Improvements in Korea going forward are going to come, I think, only as a result of the Doha Round of negotiations. That’s where future gains will come for rice.

“We did acquire gains in the trade deal with Columbia. But looking across the board at what will deliver the next increase in access, I think it’ll have to be Doha. We’ll focus on that in 2011.”