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Corn Lawsuit Against Syngenta Certified as Class Action

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo
An ear of Syngenta corn grown in Iowa.

A lawsuit farmers have filed against seed giant Syngenta will proceed as a class action, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of corn growers nationwide.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lungstrum approved the motion to certify the Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation as a class action Monday in Kansas City, Kansas.

"It allows us to streamline the case and focus on the issues that are important to all the farmers in the country," says St. Louis, Missouri, attorney Don Downing, one of the lead co-counsels on the case. "And try class cases where we can try to get recoveries for all farmers in the country in a very efficient, streamlined way."

The case involves a Chinese decision to block importation of U.S. corn in 2013. Regulators in China detected a new genetically engineered Syngenta trait, which they had not approved. China rejected the load and subsequently canceled all imports of U.S. corn. (China has since approved the trait and resumed importing corn from the United States.)

The lawsuit alleges China’s actions forced a drop in the price of corn, hurting all growers in the U.S., and it blames Syngenta for knowingly marketing a new trait that did not have worldwide approval.

Even years later, the amount of U.S. corn exported to China for feed grain is way below pre-embargo projections, Downing says.

"The feed grain imports have increased dramatically, but they've shifted over to sorghum, which is a non-GMO crop, and they've shifted over to Ukrainian corn, which is non-GMO corn," Downing says. "So it was a huge loss for US corn producers."

Syngenta denies any wrongdoing and, in a written statement, disagreed with the certification:

Syngenta respectfully disagrees with this ruling, particularly given the widely varying ways in which farmers grow and sell corn in different markets across the U.S.  The Court did not rule that plaintiffs' claims actually have merit.  Syngenta is considering its appellate options.
Syngenta firmly believes that the Viptera China lawsuits should be rejected and that Agrisure Viptera was commercialized in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements.

The certification of a class action means Individual farmers do not have to pursue legal action. If the lawsuit goes to trial and damages are awarded to corn growers, nearly all farmers who planted corn in certain years would be eligible to file a claim for damages.

Syngenta, which is poised to be bought by Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina, could be forced into a huge payout if it were to lose in court. 

A trial is scheduled for June 2017.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames