The group says the seed company downplayed how the technology would be perceived by China.
by Katie Micik, DTN Markets Editor
OMAHA (DTN) — Corn farmers in five Midwestern states filed several class action lawsuits against Syngenta Co. on Friday, the latest development in the dispute over Syngenta's commercialization of biotech traits that China hasn't approved for importation.
Corn farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska have joined Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply Co., a container shipping company, in taking Syngenta to court.
The farmers allege that Syngenta misrepresented the timeframe that the Agrisure Viptera trait, also known as MIR 162, would take to clear China's import approvals process. The farmers also alleged that Syngenta downplayed the importance of China as an export market destination and the role exports play in corn prices in an attempt to boost sales of its new traits.
The lawsuits also allege that Syngenta knew that selling seed with the MIR 162 trait would contaminate the export market, potentially leading to rejected cargo shipments of grain in export markets.
“Syngenta must be held accountable for its blatant misrepresentations to U.S. corn farmers,” said James Pizzirusso, a partner with Hausfeld LLP, the law firm that handled the class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer of StarLink corn in 2000. “By promoting and marketing a genetically-modified corn seed before the seed had received import approval from China, Syngenta placed its own profit margins over corn farmers' livelihoods. Syngenta's decision has been economically devastating to U.S. corn farmers, causing losses of over one billion dollars.”
Paul Minehart, a spokesman for Syngenta, said the company “believes that 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.”
Viptera was approved for cultivation in the U.S. in 2010, and Syngenta says it commercialized the trait in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements. “Syngenta also obtained import approval from major corn importing countries,” Minehart said.
Corn farmers disagree.
The lawsuit filed in Nebraska argues that “China was the seventh largest corn import market for the 2009-10 crop year with widespread predictions that it would move into the top five by 2011-12.”
By the 2012-13, China's corn purchases hit 5 million metric tons, or about 197 million bushels, making it the third largest corn export market. USDA projected that China would buy 7 mmt in 2013-14 before Chinese regulatory officials began rejecting shipments of U.S. corn in November 2013.
China purchased a total of 2.8 mmt in 2013-14, according to a year's summary of USDA's export sales reports.
“Syngenta knew, or 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 MIR 162 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,” the lawsuit stated.
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