Syngenta Lawsuits Over Viptera, Duracade Corn Seed Allowed to Move Forward

A federal judge has issued a ruling that will allow hundreds of Syngenta corn seed lawsuits to move forward, rejecting calls by the agricultural company to throw out claims brought by farmers and others in the industry over the company’s Viptera and Duracade genetically modified seed. 

Syngenta currently faces about 380 lawsuits over Viptera and Duracade products, involving claims on behalf of thousands of individuals impacted by drops in corn prices allegedly caused by the company’s sale of genetically modified seed without first obtaining approval for the corn to be exported to China, which is one of the largest markets for U.S. corn.

In a memorandum and order (PDF) issued earlier this month, U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum denied a request by Syngenta to dismiss the lawsuits, which will allow the litigation to move forward.

While China recently approved the genetic trait produced by Syngenta’s Agisure Viptera and Agisure Duracade corn seeds, also known as MIR162, farmers and agricultural companies maintain that they have suffered significant economic harm over the past year, due to drops in corn prices when China rejected any imports with traces of MIR162, which widely contaminated the entire U.S. corn supply.

Farmers and others in the industry estimate that $1 billion in damages have been caused by the GMO corn seed, since corn products grown at many different farms are commonly co-mingling, and Syngenta also recommended that Agisure Viptera and Duracade seed be grown next to other corn, causing cross-pollination.

In December 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to centalize all Syngenta GMO corn lawsuits before Judge Lungstrum for pretrial proceedings in the District of Kansas.

Following the coordinated pretrial proceedings, if Syngenta corn seed settlements are not reached to resolve the litigation, individual cases may be remanded back to the U.S. District Courts where they were originally filed for separate trials across the country.

Judge Upholds Claims Syngenta Had Duty To Protect Farmers

Syngenta argued that it was not required to protect U.S. farmers and that their claims that the company should have taken “reasonable care” are too broad. It also attacked the lawsuits on a variety of state and federal specifics, some of which Judge Lungstrum upheld. However, he generally allowed the lawsuits to go forward and told plaintiffs affected by some of the rejected portions of the lawsuits that they could refile amended complaints.

“As alleged by plaintiffs (which allegations must be accepted at this stage), plaintiffs’ particular injuries were not only foreseeable, they were actually foreseen by Syngenta, with plaintiffs suffering the very harm expected to occur,” Judge Lungstrum wrote in the 120 page memorandum explaining the ruling. “That foreseen harm applied to the industry generally, and thus plaintiffs’ injury is sufficiently connected to Syngenta’s conduct and is not wholly out of proportion to Syngenta’s culpability.”

Syngenta first allegedly asked China for approval of Viptera corn seed back in 2010, according to allegations raised in lawsuits, but began selling the corn to farmers and other agribusiness companies, claiming approval was imminent. However, China did not approve the trait until late last year, blocking all imports of corn with traces of MIR162 trait since at least November 2013.

Even farmers who did not purchase or use Syngenta corn seed may have claims against the company for damages associated with bans on shipments containing their corn, which were contaminated with the trait.

On December 22, Syngenta announced that China had finally approved MIR162 for shipping to that market, but by then many farmers claim to have already suffered severe economic damage due to the price drops that resulted from an approval delay which they say Syngenta led them to believe was not going to occur.

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