Syngenta is not ready to comment officially about settling lawsuits related to the marketing of Agrisure Viptera seed, which resulted in China rejecting U.S. corn shipments, but there is speculation that settlements might happen if China follows through with importing such corn in the near future. At the same time as Chinese import approval is being talked about, law firms have announced they are expanding class-action lawsuits against Syngenta to include farmers in more states.
A Reuters article by reporter Tom Polansek, who has been following the Syngenta situation, wrote an article Thursday that suggested a settlement to a relatively small number of farmers was likely as China is expected to make official the acceptance of Viptera corn, but that relatively small settlement appears to be much different than settlement to class-action lawsuits filed in the last 10 days.
The official statement from Syngenta is as follows: “Syngenta believes the lawsuits are without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability. The issues involved in these cases are extremely important. This is not litigation we wanted, but we intend to defend it vigorously.”
Polansek wrote, “Chinese government approval for imports of a controversial type of Syngenta AG biotech corn increases the likelihood the seed maker will pay settlements to more than 100 U.S. farmers and exporters suing for damages from grain shipments rejected by Beijing, lawyers said.”
He further wrote that clearance by China’s Ministry of Agriculture “ends uncertainty about Agrisure Viptera corn’s status and could give Syngenta new price references to calculate potential losses from the (grain’s) rejections.” In official records, the Viptera corn is referred to as MIR 162 corn.
Industry reports during the past 12 months are that corn exports to China from the U.S. have been almost non-existent, and China rejected more than 1.2 million tonnes of U.S. corn because of discovered co-mingling of Viptera corn in shipments, or worries about extremely small amounts of co-mingling.
Three law firms that claim responsibility for major roles in a $750 million settlement on behalf of U.S. rice farmers, who suffered financially due to genetically modified rice seed, have filed two class-action lawsuits on behalf of U.S. corn farmers, which the attorneys claim have suffered similar economic losses from genetically modified corn being planted in the U.S.
The three law firms reportedly filed their complaints on Nov. 11 in federal court in St. Louis and Kansas City, Kan., and amended them Nov. 18 to include 20 states. These 20 states represent 86 percent of the corn planted in the United States in 2014, according to the law firms.
Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C. of St. Louis, Gray Reed & McGraw, P.C. of Texas and Hare Wynn Newell & Newton of Birmingham, Ala., filed their class-action lawsuits accusing Syngenta of causing huge economic harm to corn growers after the company marketed two genetically modified strains of corn—Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade—that were not approved for import by China, although the traited seeds were approved for sale in the U.S.
The law firms are using a number of from $1 billion to $2.9 billion in losses to corn growers and the industry due to the loss of the Chinese market. The corn growers’ financial losses continue to grow, the lawsuits allege.
Polansek in another article reported that Syngenta is trying to make amends with Bunge North America by dropping its lawsuit against the grain merchandiser and exporter for refusing to handle Viptera corn.
Polansek had no specifics about potential settlements with two corn exporters Cargill Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Co. that sued Syngenta about lost income in not being able to ship corn to China from the U.S.