Kansas corn producers have won the first of eight certified state class action lawsuits wherein U.S. corn growers are alleging that they incurred economic harm as a result of actions Switzerland-based Syngenta’s took with its genetically modified (GM) strains of corn that led to the loss of an important export market for U.S. corn when shipments were suspended.
After a half-day of deliberation, the jury found Syngenta negligent and awarded $217,700,000 in compensatory damages to the class of more than 7,000 Kansas corn growers, who were represented in the lawsuit by four Kansas corn producer plaintiffs (Five Star Farms et al. vs. Syngenta AG et al., No. 2:14-cv-02571).
The Kansas plaintiffs alleged that they suffered significant economic damages when Syngenta sold two GM strains of its corn seed – Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade – to the U.S. market prior to China approving the strains. China, a major importer of U.S. corn, began refusing all shipments of U.S. corn in 2013 after a genetic trait found in Viptera – MIR162 – was detected in shipments from the U.S. The genetic trait was not approved in China at the time.
With the loss of the Chinese market, corn growers in Kansas and across the U.S. saw the price of corn plummet and suffered long-lasting economic damage, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs were represented by Don Downing of Gray, Ritter & Graham P.C., Scott Powell of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP and William Chaney of Gray Reed & McGraw LLP.
“The verdict is great news for corn farmers in Kansas and corn growers throughout the country who were seriously hurt by Syngenta’s actions. This is only the beginning. We look forward to pursuing justice for thousands more corn farmers in the months ahead,” the four co-lead counsels said in a statement.
The Kansas class action lawsuit, which began June 5, was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. It is the first of eight state class action lawsuits certified in this multi-district litigation so far. The other certified state class action lawsuits involve Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota corn producers. Numerous other state class action lawsuits in this matter are awaiting certification.
“We are disappointed with today’s verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies, even when they are fully approved in the U.S.,” a Syngenta spokesperson said in a statement. “The case is without merit, and we will move forward with an appeal and continue to defend the rights of American farmers to access safe and effective, U.S.-approved technologies.”
Syngenta said it commercialized Agrisure Viptera in full compliance with U.S. regulatory and legal requirements, including U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food & Drug Administration regulations. Viptera had also received approval in the key import markets recommended at the time by the National Corn Growers Assn. and other industry associations.
“Syngenta believes that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technology to help them increase their productivity and yield. American farmers shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms,” the company said.
Nationwide, losses to U.S. corn growers due to being shut out of the Chinese market are estimated to exceed $5 billion.