Cases claim the company caused losses by marketing MIR162 before Chinese approval
In what’s becoming a long and complex legal battle, more than 2,000 farmers are suing Syngenta for financial loss claims they suffered after Syngenta marketed corn with the trait MIR162, commercial name Agrisure Viptera, before it was approved for export to China.
In September, a federal district judge in Kansas City, Kan., cleared the way for lawsuits on behalf of farmers and grain handlers who believe they suffered financial damages in 2013 when China rejected some U.S. corn due to the presence of Viptera, which had not been approved for import by the Chinese.
Plaintiffs contend the rejection of 131 million bushels of corn interrupted trade and lowered commodity prices, costing farmers as much as $3 billion, according to National Grain Feed Association estimates.
Syngenta says it didn’t need approval from China before releasing Viptera; the law only requires approvals for trade with Canada and Japan before the corn can be commercialized in the U.S.
However, when the grain got mixed into the main supply, it limited the number of legal export destinations since several countries had yet to approve of the trait, says Kristen van de Biezenbos, assistant professor at Texas Tech University School of Law. Seed technology companies typically wait until they have trait approval from “key export markets” before commercialization to avoid contamination and export limitations. Syngenta says China was not considered “a key export market” in 2011, when the trait was commercialized.
At the time the corn was rejected, China had been accepting corn with Viptera for two years, says Michael Jones, Syngenta’s attorney. “China’s decision to reject U.S. corn was about its own political motivations,” he adds.
The outcome of these lawsuits could discourage future trait advances, Syngenta claims. “Under the theory of the lawsuit, before a GMO product could be sold in the U.S., it might require approval from all countries—Russia, Syria or even Iran for that matter,” Jones argues, “even if the country is engaged in a trade dispute with the U.S., as was the case with China.”
Farmers who believe they were hurt financially say Syngenta misled them. “Syngenta said [China] would approve of corn that had never been approved,” says Jayne Conroy, a plaintiff’s attorney involved with the cases and member of the plaintiff’s executive committee.
Syngenta Blames Grain Handlers for Marketing Viptera
Syngenta has filed a third-party claim in Kansas federal court against Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and two other small grain handlers, blaming them for damages stemming from exporting corn containing the Agrisure Viptera trait, which lead to rejection by the Chinese in 2013.
The claim says the companies should be held responsible for farmers’ monetary losses that resulted from China’s refusal of the Viptera corn.
“Each elevator, transporter and exporter, including the third-party defendants, exercises discretion in determining whether and how to accept particular types of corn,” the claim states.
In addition to accepting Viptera, grain handlers mixed Viptera into the general supply, according to the claim. Syngenta asserts the decision of how and where to dispose of the corn is at the discretion of the grain handling company.
As of press time, Cargill and ADM declined to comment on the complaint.