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Corn Farmers Case against Syngenta’s GMOs Could Take Years

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Minneapolis, MNAmerican corn farmers could be waiting a long time for the courts to resolve their claim that giant Swiss agribusiness company, Syngenta, misrepresented the facts when its CEO said in 2012 that Chinese import approval for Syngenta’s genetically modified corn, known as Agrisure Viptera MIR 162, was imminent.

Agrisure Viptera MIR 162 (known as MIR 162) is designed to resist insects.

Despite Syngenta’s indication that China was throwing the door open to MIR 162, the fact was that Chinese authorities were, at that time, two years from giving it the stamp of approval. Many consumers in China are weary of GMO products and the government has adopted a strict testing and evaluation process that seems to take time.

“Our position is Syngenta knew and fully understood the risk associated with getting approval,” says Steve Randall from Pearson, Randall & Schumacher, a Minneapolis firm that represents some of the firm’s clients currently involved in litigation against Syngenta.

Part of the evidence for misrepresentation by Syngenta is a 2012 First Quarter Earnings conference call transcript in which the company’s CEO said, referring to MIR 162, “There isn’t outstanding approval from China, which we expect within a couple of days…we know of no outstanding issue with that whatsoever.”

“It was a high-risk game,” says Randall.

“The only motivation I can see for Syngenta’s actions is profits and getting your product out in a highly competitive field and putting out new product first,” says Randall, who is scheduled to speak on the Syngenta litigation at the Mass Torts Made Perfect conference in Las Vegas on April 16.

When MIR 162 was detected in US corn shipments that arrived in Chinese ports in November 2013, the government in Beijing turned the freighters around and slammed the door shut on American corn farmers and exporters, sending corn prices plunging, and cost corn farmers somewhere between 11 cents and $2 a bushel in lost revenue.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) estimates the economic losses to the industry to be $2.9 billion.

The US is the largest corn producer in the world and the Chinese have historically imported corn almost exclusively from the American Midwest. According to the NGFA in Washington, D.C., “the Chinese zero tolerance for unapproved biotech events” effectively shut the US out of the Chinese feed grain import market. The Chinese instead turned to the Ukraine, Argentina and Brazil as a source of corn.

It is hard to overestimate the impact on the American farmers and the reputation of one of the most important agricultural crops in the country.

“Absolutely, reputations are important and the reputation of American corn is extremely important,” says attorney Randall.

Some 360 lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta by farmers, grain handlers, exporters and importers. They have been consolidated in an MDL with Don Downing, from the firm of Gray, Ritter & Graham, serving as co-lead counsel. Downing was involved in a similar GMO food crop case several years ago.

Bayer AG ultimately paid $750 million to 11,000 American rice farmers who charged that the company’s genetically modified rice tainted their crops and crushed its export value. It took five years for the litigation to resolve. The MIR 162 case will also take time, says Randall.

“We think that at about the 18-month mark we will have a good sense of the end game and have a better idea of how long this will take to resolve for our clients,” he says.

In December 2014, the Chinese finally gave their approval for the importation of MIR 162. Meanwhile, Syngenta has released another bio-engineered corn known as Agrisure Duracade, again well in advance of approval by the Chinese. The NFGA believes this is shaping up to be another economic fiasco for the corn industry and anticipates it will cost farmers, grain handlers and others well over $3 billion in the 2014/15 season.

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