US corn producers granted class action status in Syngenta lawsuit

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
US corn producers have been granted class status in an ongoing lawsuit against Syngenta for the sale of biotech corn, which is said to make it must easier and less costly for farmers to pursue their claims against the Swiss biotech firm. 

The decision​ came Monday from US District Court Judge, John Lungstrum.

“After considering testimony and argument presented at the hearing and the parties’ written submissions, the court concludes that certification of one nationwide class and eight statewide classes is appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23,”​ he said in his ruling. 

Lungstrum certified a nationwide class and statewide classes in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.

Don Downing, a co-lead counsel in the multi-district lawsuit litigation, told this publication: “The good news from the ruling for corn farmers is they should not feel like they have to file a lawsuit [and] their interests and rights are protected,”​ he told FeedNavigator. “If we are successful we’re going to seek aggregate damages for all.”

The corn farmers are claiming market damages, he said. At this point, the case is set to go to trial in June.

Syngenta continues to state that the lawsuit regarding sale of Viptera corn should be rejected. “Agrisure Viptera was commercialized in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements,”​ it said.

The court decision was procedural, it continued, and is not an action Syngenta supports.  

“Syngenta respectfully disagrees with this ruling, particularly given the widely varying ways in which farmers grow and sell corn in different markets across the US,” ​it said. “The court did not rule that plaintiffs’ claims actually have merit.” 

Case history

The case against Syngenta was started in 2014, by Cargill and ADM, and it has since expanded to include corn producers, milo or sorghum producers and non-producers.

The original lawsuit alleged that damage was caused by Syngenta, when the company offered for sale forms of biotech corn, MIR 162 or Viptera and Duracade, in the US before it had been approved for sale in China, said officials in case documents.

“In doing so, Syngenta caused widespread contamination of the US corn supply with Viptera and Duracade, and the consequent unavailability of Viptera- and Duracade-free corn resulted in the virtual closure of the US export market to China,”​ said group lawyers in case documents.

Syngenta requested the case be dismissed, but, in September 2015 it was allowed to move forward in the US District Court for the District of Kansas. Syngenta filed counterclaims and a lawsuit against members of the original lawsuit saying the duty to isolate the corn fell to grain elevators, transporters and exporters, but it was dismissed.

Corn producers' case

A notice to corn producers regarding the judge’s order is set to be issued by the court soon, said Downing. Farmers who want to be involved do not have to do anything at this point, but they can choose to file separate lawsuits if they wish.

“What this does is it gives them an option – they can be part of the class or not,” ​he said. “We think the class is a superior method to resolve the claim.”

“This was really a huge loss for corn producers,” ​said Downing of events leading to the lawsuits. “Before the grain embargo from China, it was a large import market for US corn. Then the embargo hit, and China shifted dramatically to sorghum or milo and shifted for the corn to Ukrainian corn and Ukraine is now the largest corn supplier for China. Once you lose a foreign market like that it’s hard to get it back," ​he said.

Damages from the loss in market have been valued at $5-7bn, added Downing.

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