GMO Corn Lawsuit Alleges Syngenta Conspired to Contaminate U.S. Corn

According to an article published by Arkansas Business on February 23, 2015, two Arkansas farms allege that Swiss seed-maker Syngenta “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to contaminate the U.S. corn crop to force China, other nations that buy U.S. corn and U.S. farmers to accept genetically modified corn.” The accusations come as hundreds of farmers across the U.S., along with global grain handlers Archer Daniels Midland, Co. and Cargill, Inc., are filing Syngenta Viptera Corn Lawsuits against the seed maker over its sales of a specific type of genetically modified (GMO) corn seed that allegedly disrupted trading with China in 2014.

In a related report, Arkansas Business notes the similarities between the Syngenta GMO corn lawsuits and the alleged contamination of the U.S. rice supply by Bayer AG. That case was settled in 2011 for approximately $750 million, following a trial against Bayer in which a jury handed down a $48 million verdict in favor of a Lonoke County farmer.

Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, with whom Johnson & Vines has associated to represent farmers filing Syngenta GMO corn lawsuits in Arkansas and across the country, was one of the lead law firms representing affected farmers in the Bayer GMO rice case. Scott Powell, an attorney with the Hare Wynn law firm, was quoted comparing the two cases:

“My judgment is that they see that they have a profit opportunity that far surpasses their supposed legal exposure. If they can pay 2 to 3 to 4 billion dollars to the farmers for doing this but they stand to make 7, 8, 10 billion from the project, that’s pretty easy math.”

Powell’s statement reflects the “profits over people” approach of the seed makers that underlies many of the allegations in the GMO corn lawsuits filed in Arkansas and other states.

If you would like more information about Syngenta Viptera Corn Lawsuits, or if you are a farmer affected by Syngenta GMO corn and would like information on your legal options, contact the Johnson & Vines Law Firm. We offer free initial consultations.

Background on Syngenta GMO Corn

Syngenta reportedly released genetically modified corn trait MIR162 into the U.S. market in 2009. It was designed to aid in protecting corn against damage from insects such as the corn borer and rootworm. Syngenta’s first generation of corn containing the MIR162 trait was known as Agrisure Viptera. The second generation of Syngenta’s MIR162 corn, Agrisure Duracade was marketed and distributed for planting in 2014.

Syngenta is believed to have invested approximately $200 million and spent five years developing Viptera. Following its approval in 2010, Syngenta reportedly released Viptera commercially for the 2011-growing season through product names such as Agrisure Viptera 3110 & 3111.

Syngenta released Viptera corn into the stream of commerce even though it allegedly lacked regulatory approval from certain key import markets such as China, Japan, and the European Union. In November 2013, China stopped importing U.S. corn when it detected traces of MIR 162 in U.S. corn shipments. China did not approve the GMO corn until December 2014.

Syngenta’s GMO corn is believed to have entered the corn supply through commingling, cross-pollination, or volunteering. After Viptera received U.S. regulatory approval, Syngenta reportedly offered farmers a “side-by-side program” that encouraged farmers to plant Viptera corn adjacent to other corn seed. Lawsuits allege that Syngenta encouraged this side-by-side planting process despite the known contamination risks in doing so. They further allege that Syngenta knew that commingling different varieties of corn was a risk during the planting, harvesting, drying, storage, and transportation process. Once released, a corn variety can, without adequate precautions, contaminate the broader corn supply.

Market Impact of China Ban of Syngenta GMO Corn 

The U.S. leads the world in total corn production and exports much of its production. As with most crops, the U.S. corn marketing system is commodity-based. It is harvested, gathered, commingled, consolidated, and otherwise shipped from thousands of farms to local, regional, and terminal distribution centers. From there, exporters often transport U.S. corn to foreign countries. In order to maintain the stability of the corn marketing and distribution system, it is vital that the U.S. corn supply and exports maintain the highest standards of purity and integrity. The U.S. exports about 20 percent of its domestic corn production to other countries.

In 2012, China served as the third-leading market for the export of U.S. corn, following Japan and Mexico, with 203 million bushels of U.S. corn exported. The U.S. is by far the world’s largest exporter of corn, in recent years accounting for approximately 68% of global exports.

Lawsuits allege that the impact of the Chinese ban on Syngenta GMO corn caused widespread harm to the US corn market, chiefly by crippling the growing export market to China, which has been the third largest export market for US corn. According to the USDA, China purchased an estimated 5 million tons of US corn in 2012-13 up from 47,000 tons in 2008. China was on track to meet or exceed 5 million tons in 2013-14.

According to the National Grain and Feed Association, as of October 2014 about 1.45 million tons of corn shipments had been barred and $427 million in sales are alleged to have been lost from these barred shipments alone. Likewise the price of corn plummeted. Some estimates put the total market loss, on a per bushel basis, at over $1 billion dollars, even with the subsequent approval of the GMO corn by China in December 2014.

Origins of Syngenta Viptera Corn Lawsuits

The current Syngenta GMO corn litigation stems from the detection of unapproved genetically modified corn in international shipments sent to China. The shipments reportedly contained corn that tested positive for the genetically modified corn trait MIR162, which was developed and marketed by Syngenta. Though Syngenta had applied for approval of the trait to the Chinese government in 2010, it had not yet received approval for distribution and consumption in China at the time that the corn trait at issue was detected. China has a zero tolerance policy regarding contaminated corn imports, and shipments that tested positive for the trait were barred and turned back. This caused considerable market upheaval.

Allegations Against Syngenta in GMO Corn Lawsuits

In additional to the allegations against Syngenta that it “engaged in a conspiracy to contaminate the U.S. corn crop,” as noted in the Arkansas Business article above, several other allegations are being made in Syngenta Viptera Corn Lawsuits.

  • Syngenta’s Greed and Recklessness Has Harmed the Entire US Corn Market.

Syngenta’s decision to bring its Agrisure varieties (first with Viptera) to the market crippled the 2013-14 corn export market to China and caused damage to farmers, grain elevators, and exporters. Lawsuits allege that Syngenta knew, or should have known, that releasing Viptera would lead to the contamination of U.S. corn shipments and prevent U.S. corn from being sold to export markets such as China, which had not granted regulatory approval to MIR162. Syngenta is further alleged to have known, or it should have known, that disruption to the Chinese import market would influence the global corn market, that contracts between grain exporters and Chinese corn buyers would be negatively affected if MIR162 was found in grain exports to China, and that U.S. farmers would suffer damages if these contracts were placed at risk, in the form of a declining market and a lower sale price per bushel of corn.

  • Syngenta Knowingly Misrepresented the Potential for Harm.

Syngenta in GMO Corn Lawsuits further allege that Syngenta has misinformed farmers, grain elevators, grain exporters, and the general public into believing regulatory approval of MIR162 corn from China was imminent and the lack of Chinese approval would not impact the corn market prices. Syngenta reportedly attempted to downplay and misrepresent the significance of the export market for corn on U.S. corn prices, China’s key role in the U.S. export market, and the timing of Chinese approval of MIR162. Affected farmers assert that Syngenta did this with the intention of encouraging farmers to continue to buy and plant its MIR162 corn.

  • Downplaying export markets.

Syngenta reportedly distributed and published a fact sheet on its website called “Plant with Confidence” in which it tried to convince farmers that the “vast majority” of corn was used domestically and the loss of key exports was not important. Syngenta said this despite its own CEO, Michael Mack, allegedly acknowledging that Chinese import requirements influence global commodity prices and that China has a great impact on world markets, with its increasing imports not just of soybeans but also of corn.

  • Misrepresenting China’s regulatory status and any possible harm should China reject shipments.

Mr. Mack is alleged to have stated in a stated in a Q1 2012 earnings conference call that he expected approval of Syngenta GMO corn in China “within a couple of days or so.” Syngenta apparently changed its position in 2014 when it reportedly stated that it did not know when Syngenta GMO corn would receive approval.

Status of Syngenta Viptera Corn Lawsuits

Several Syngenta GMO corn class action lawsuits have been filed in corn-producing states on behalf of farmers, and exporters. Grain elevators and exporters, in addition to farmers expected to opt-out of class action litigation, have brought individual lawsuits. The class cases are brought on behalf of both national and state-only classes. As of October 2014, cases had been filed in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska.

In an order filed on December 11, 2014 by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), all federally filed Syngenta GMO corn lawsuits were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Unites States District Court for the District of Kansas in order to “serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.”

Scott Powell of the Hare Wynn law firm, quoted in the Arkansas Business article above, was named as one of the plaintiffs’ co-lead attorneys for the MDL. Johnson & Vines has associated with Hare Wynn to represent farmers filing Syngenta GMO corn lawsuits in Arkansas and across the country.

For more information, contact Johnson & Vines at (501) 777-7777 or (888) 888-0612, or online at [email protected]