Leaders from the US agriculture sector, including hog farmers, tomato growers, food processors and a major grocery store chain, have called on Congress to pass class action lawsuit reform in the shape of passing S. 1712, the Class Action Fairness Act.

"There has been a dramatic increase in the number of frivolous class action lawsuits filed against high tech, insurance, health care, manufacturing and financial services companies in state courts over the last decade," said Bryce Neidig, president of the Farm Bureau of Nebraska. "Those of us in the ag sector are concerned that we may be the next target of these abusive lawsuits. Agriculture is vital to our nation's economy, and Congress must take steps to assure that we do not become the next cash cow for trial lawyers."

The bi-partisan Class Action Fairness Act passed the House in March and is currently pending in the Senate. The legislation makes it easier to move large, multi-state class action lawsuits from state to federal court, thereby curbing the practice of "venue shopping" by trial lawyers.

The bill also contains a "Plaintiffs Bill of Rights" that includes:

* judicial scrutiny of settlements in which consumers receive coupons or something of little value while their attorneys receive millions of dollars in legal fees;
* a requirement that class action settlement notices be written in "plain English";
* a prohibition on settlements in which class members actually lose money to pay attorneys' fees; and
* the fair and even distribution of damage awards to all plaintiffs.

"Class action reform would restore fairness to our legal system, reduce litigation expenses, curtail excessive class action suits and protect consumers. The Senate should plow ahead on this important piece of legislation," said Neidig.

The agriculture leaders distributed a letter to Senators' offices signed by 394 agricultural organisations and companies asking for passage of the Class Action Fairness Act.