Lawsuits brought by farmers against one of the world’s leading seed companies will end in settlements.
Thousands of farmers sued Syngenta AG over its marketing of a genetically engineered variety of corn. The company had approval to sell it in the United States, but Chinese regulators had not yet given the new trait in the seeds the green light. So when they discovered it in a 2013 shipment, they rejected all U.S. corn. Prices plummeted.
Lewis Remele, an attorney with Bassford Remele in Minneapolis, who represents a group of farmers in a Minnesota State Court suit against Syngenta, says the terms of the settlement are supposed to remain confidential for 30 days while Syngenta takes care of securities filings. Reuters is reporting the settlement could be $1.5 billion.
“The reason everybody brought these lawsuits was to get compensation for farmers who we thought were damaged as a result of what happened with these shipments to China,” Remele says. “So we’re pleased that farmers are going to get compensation for what happened here.”
The settlement will apply to lawsuits brought by farmers in Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois, Remele says. It also covers suits brought by grain elevators and ethanol plants, he says, but it does not apply to separate litigation that grain exporters, including Cargill and ADM, have pending against Syngenta.
Syngenta maintains general market forces pushed down the price of corn in 2013, but in June a Kansas jury sided with farmers awarding them nearly $218 million. At that time, Syngenta issued a statement saying the verdict was disappointing “because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.”
Kansas City attorney Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson, who represented the farmers in that Kansas suit, issued a statement about the pending settlement:
"As class counsel for the nationwide class of corn farmers, we can confirm the existence of a preliminary settlement framework subject to further negotiations, including negotiations regarding the terms of the settlement. We look forward to continued negotiations with Syngenta as the parties work toward a final settlement agreement covering corn farmers and certain non-producers that we can recommend to the Court for final approval."
For its part, Syngenta issued a statement that concluded, “The proposed settlement would allow both sides to avoid the uncertainty of ongoing litigation. The settlement does not constitute an admission by either side concerning the merits of the parties’ allegations and defenses.”
Remele says lawyers are still working out the details of administering and distributing the settlement and those plans are part of what will be submitted to the court for approval.