NEW ORLEANS — Rice farmers have nearly a month to file for part of a $750 million settlement to claims they lost money because Bayer CropScience mistakenly sold genetically modified seed in the United States.
The original deadline was Oct. 10, but Bayer extended it to Nov. 21, attorney Don Downing of St. Louis — one of the lead attorneys in a lawsuit filed by farmers in five states — said Monday.
Rice farmers said they lost critical export markets and the price of rice dropped after Bayer disclosed in 2006 that an experimental strain of genetically altered rice was found in U.S. food supplies.
Bayer CropScience, an arm of Bayer AG, offered the settlement in July. Without claims from growers representing 85 percent of the average acres planted from 2006 to 2009, Bayer could walk away from the settlement.
"We do not expect to know the actual participation level for some time yet," company spokesman Greg Coffey said in an email Monday.
He said Bayer is hopeful that the goal was met by Oct. 11, but said, "This extension will help ensure that all growers who want to participate in the process are assured of the opportunity to submit their claims."
Although the suit was filed by farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and Mississippi, the settlement was offered to all U.S. farmers who planted long-grain rice between 2006 and 2010. It's also grown in Florida and "very minimal acreage" in California, according to USA Rice Federation.
"The 40-day extension will not delay payments for those having filed adequately supported claims earlier in the process," Coffey said. "Once we have confirmed that the 85-percent-of-acreage objective has been reached, payments to rice growers will begin."
Northeastern Louisiana attorneys estimate that farmers in the area could get more than $100 million, The News-Star of Monroe reported Monday.
Downing said more than 10,000 farmers and their landlords also have been sent a revised release needed for the settlement. A clerical error dropped a few lines from the 12-page release sent earlier, and there's a Dec. 19 deadline for the corrected release, he said.