Syngenta Corn Class Action Lawsuits Filed Over Genetically Modified Seeds

A growing number of corn farmers and exporters are pursuing lawsuits over Syngenta GMO seed products, alleging that genetically modified seed sold in recent years has contaminated the U.S. corn supply and resulted in catastrophic damages for the entire industry due to the inability to export corn to China.

Since 2009, Syngenta has been marketing genetically modified (GMO) corn seed products known as “Agisure Viptera” and “Agisure Duracade”, which contain an engineered trait called MIR162.

Class action lawsuits have been filed throughout the country in recent weeks on behalf of farmers and exporters, alleging that Syngenta CMO corn seed may cause the farm industry to suffer damages between $1 billion and $2.9 billion.

One of the most recent complaints (PDF) was brought this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina by a group of local corn farmers, who allege that they have sustained substantial damages due to drops in corn prices and the loss of export markets.

“Plaintiffs and those similarly situated have incurred losses arising from the rejection of U.S. grown corn by export markets,” according to the lawsuit filed on November 11. “[Plaintiffs] have sustained damage to their farmland and entire farming operations. And because the substantial portion of the U.S. corn crop is exported annually, the United States ability and limitations on corn exports deeply impacts corn price levels, including domestic prices in the corn market.”

Syngenta Corn Seed Problems

Known as GMO corn seed, Syngenta Agisure Viptera and Agisure Duracade were marketed to protect against damage from certain pests and make the corn more adapted to surviving. However, Syngenta launched the corn seed without first obtaining approval for the genetically modified corn to be exported to China, which is the third-largest market for U.S. corn exports in the world.

Although Syngenta GMO corn seed products only account for a limited portion of the U.S. market, cross pollination and co-mingling of corn grown by individual farmers in grain elevators, distribution centers, trains and other transportation containers have resulted in the genetically modified trait contaminating much of the U.S. corn supply, according to a growing number of lawsuits filed nationwide.

Since the beginning of the month, nearly a dozen complaints have been filed in courts throughout the United States, raising similar allegations that Syngenta negligently and recklessly marketed Agisure Viptera and Agisure Duracade corn seed, encouraging farmers to plant the genetically modified corn side-by-side with other corn seed products and falsely claiming that regulatory approval in China was imminent.

The North Carolina lawsuit points out that during a first quarter earnings call in 2012, Syngenta CEO Michael Mack told investors “[t]here isn’t outstanding approval for China, which we expect to have quite frankly within the matter of a couple days…we know of no issue with that whatsoever…”

Exports account for about 20% of corn grown in the United States. In recent years, the China corn market has been the fastest growing in the world, with expectations that it would become the largest export market within the next decade.

In November 2013, China began rejecting corn shipments from the United States, after detecting even a trace amount of Syngenta modified corn.

“[A]s a result of China’s prohibition on the importation of MIR162 corn, even in trace, low-level amounts, and Syngenta’s decision to continue marketing MIR162 to a small minority of U.S. corn farmers — the vast majority of U.S. corn has been effectively excluded from what was previously the third-largest export market for U.S. corn, causing U.S. farmers significant damages as corn prices have dropped from the loss of China’s export markets,” according to another class action lawsuit (PDF) filed by Charlynn Hamilton in Nebraska federal court on November 3. “Moreover, although it knew that it lacked approval from Chinese authorities, Syngenta has misinformed farmers, grain elevators, grain exporters, and the general public into believing that regulatory approval of MIR162 corn from China was imminent and that the lack of Chinese approval would not impact the corn market prices.”

In addition to lawsuits by farmers in at least a dozen different states, Syngenta also faces claims by grain exporters, including Cargill Inc. and Trans Coastal Supply Co.

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